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James 1

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Verse 1

James 1:1

James, a servant of God


James and his Epistle

This Epistle, although Luther stigmatised it as “an epistle of straw,” has many claims on our regard. It is the first Christian document that was given to the world, the earliest of all the New Testament Scriptures: It is more like the writings of the Old Testament than any other contained, in the New, and forms a natural transition from the one to the other. To St. James the gospel of Christ was simply the true Judaism, Judaism fulfilled and transfigured. It was the law of Moses, which St. Paul called “the law of bondage,” transformed into “the law of liberty.” it was the beautiful consummate flower of which the old economy was the bud, the perfect day of which that was the dawn. The first special claim of the Epistle is, then, that it presents us with the earliest view of the truth as it is in Jesus which obtained in the Christian Church; and the second is, that it was written by that “brother of the Lord” who was the first bishop, i.e., the first chief pastor, of the first Christian Church, viz., the Church of Jerusalem. And this “James the brother of the Lord” had much, not of the mind only, but of the very manner of the Lord. The style of St. James is precisely that of his Divine “Brother” plain, simple, direct, pungent, and yet instinct with poetic imagination. The Epistle opens, as most of the apostolic letters open, by announcing the names of the writer and of the persons to whom it was addressed: “James … to the Dispersion.” This was the ancient epistolary style in private as well as in public correspondence. We have many instances of it in the New Testament, as, for instance, in Acts 23:26, “Claudius Lysias to the most excellent governor Felix.” “James” had a history, and so had “the Dispersion”; and by his history he was marked out as the very man to write to the Jews who were scattered abroad. James was a Jew at heart to the day of his death, though he was also a Christian apostle. Who, then, so suitable as he to instruct men who, though Jews by birth and training and habit, had nevertheless embraced the Christian faith? After the death and resurrection of Christ he became the bishop and pillar of the Church in Jerusalem--a Church which was as much Hebrew as Christian; a Church which shook its head doubtfully when it heard that Gentiles also were being baptized; a Church from which there went forth the Judaisers who dogged St. Paul’s steps wherever he went, hindered his work, and kindled a tumult of grief and indignation in his heart. And these Judaisers carried with them” letters of commendation” from St. James, and were for ever citing the authority of “the Lord’s brethren” against that of St. Paul. It may be doubted whether he ever really approved the generous course St. Paul took. It is quite certain that, to the end of his life, he was as sincerely a Jew as he was a Christian. Till he was put to death by them, the Jews, the very Pharisees of Jerusalem respected and honoured him, although they hunted many of the Christians, and especially their leaders, to prison and the grave. Writing soon after James had passed away, an ecclesiastical historian tells us that he was holy from his mother’s womb. He drank no wine nor strong drink, and no razor ever came on his head. He alone was allowed to go into the holy place of the temple, the shrine sacred to the priests, he was so long and often on his knees that they grew hard like a camel’s. When a religious crisis arose, and the Pharisees heard that many were going astray after Jesus, they came to James of all men--the brother of Jesus and the bishop of the Church!--to beg that he would recall the people from their errors, so entirely did they regard him as one of themselves. On the feast-day they placed him on the front of the temple, and adjured him to tell the multitude, since many had gone astray after Jesus, what the true way of salvation was. They were thunderstruck when he gave testimony to the Son of Man as the Lord and Christ foretold by the prophets; but, as soon as they could believe for wonder, they rushed upon him, crying, “Woe! woe! Even the Just One is deceived!” They cast him down from the temple, and beat out his brains with a club. His testimony to Jesus as the Christ can hardly have been very zealous if the Pharisees regarded him as one of themselves, and put him forward to speak against the Son of Man. The fact seems to be that he never regarded Jesus as more than the Jewish Messiah, or the gospel as more than the fulfilling of the law. He did not see that, when a law is fulfilled, it gives place to a higher law. But whatever the defects we may discover in St. James, it is obvious that these very defects adapted him to be an apostle to the Jews. He may have quietly won many to the faith whom a man of a more catholic spirit would have alienated. At least he could help to make the men of Jerusalem better Jews; and that, after all, was the most likely way to make them Christians. But what sort of Jews were those to whom this letter was addressed--the Jews of “the Dispersion”?--and wherein did they differ from the Jews of Jerusalem? When the Jews returned from their captivity in Babylon they left behind them the great bulk of their race. Only a few poor thousands returned; hundreds of thousands preferred to remain in the lands in which they had been settled by their conquerors. As they multiplied and prospered they spread, until they were found in most of the great centres of commerce and learning in the ancient world. So, too, the Jews who had returned to Judaea also multiplied and grew, till the land became too strait for them. Their fathers had been farmers and wine-growers, each tilling his own acres or dressing his own vines. But the sons were compelled by their growing numbers to build cities and to embark in manufacture and traffic. Meanwhile the great heathen empires--Persian, Syrian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman--had thrown the whole world open to them; and of this opening they were quick to avail themselves. It was inevitable that travel and intercourse with many men of many races should widen their thoughts. They could not encounter so many new influences without being affected by them. The influence they most commonly met, and to which they yielded most, was that of Greek thought and culture. Though they retained the faith and the Scriptures of Moses, they read them in a more philosophical and cosmopolitan spirit. Now, if we picture these foreign Jews to ourselves--these “twelve tribes in the Dispersion,” as St. James calls them, just as we might speak of “the greater Britain beyond the sea”--if we picture to ourselves these men, far from the land of their fathers,dwelling in busy, populous cities, where they were compelled to hold daily intercourse with men of other creeds and customs than their own, where, so to speak, a larger, freer current of air tended to disperse the mists of local or racial prejudice, we shall readily understand that they were more accessible to new ideas, and especially to any new ideas which came to them from the land of their fathers, than their brethren who remained at home breathing the loaded atmosphere of their ancient city, into which the movements of the outside world could seldom penetrate. The Christian ideas, the good news that He was come for whom their fathers had looked, would be more impartially weighed by these Hellenised and foreign Jews than by the priests and Pharisees who dwelt under the shadow of the temple, and felt that, if Jesus should increase, they must decrease. Nor would the catholicity of the Christian faith, its appeal to men of every race, be so offensive to the tribes of the Dispersion as to the Jews of Judaea. (S. Cox, D. D.)

The ministry of James

A MINISTRY CONSCIOUSLY AUTHORISED BY GOD. The pledge of our soldiership, the credentials of our ambassage, are to be found chiefly within us, not without and around,

MINISTRY AFFECTIONATELY ADDRESSED TO ALL. The true ministry never seeks to limit its love to one Church, or to square its sympathies to one sect. No scattering, either of denomination or distance, hinders the desire that all may be taught, comforted, sanctified, saved.

A MINISTRY OCCASIONALLY WROUGHT BY WRITING. Some things are noticeable about the ministry of writing as compared with that of speech.

1. It is wider in its scope.

2. It is more permanent in its form.

3. It is frequently more easily discharged. Parents, friends, all who write to dear and most distant ones, can discharge a ministry thus. (U. R. Thomas.)

Service the true idea of a Christian life

The world is full of servants of one kind and another.

1. Many are servants through the force of their worldly position.

2. Through the weakness of their intellectual and moral natures.

3. Through the dominant force of an evil passion.

4. Through their effort to pursue a Christly method of life.

By striving to bring our daily life into conformity with the Saviour’s, by endeavouring to become pure in our nature, spiritual in our ideas, reverent in our dispositions, and unselfish in our activities, we enter upon the highest service of which a human soul is capable.


1. It is a service dedicated to God.

2. It is a service dedicated to the only Saviour of mankind: “And of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

3. This service requires the divinest attitudes and truest activities of our moral nature. It must be--

(1) Sincere in its motives.

(2) Pure in its effort.

(3) Willing in its obedience.

(4) Eternal in its duration. The moral relationships of the soul are deeper and more enduring than any other.

4. This service confers the highest dignity upon the moral nature of man.

5. This service presses itself upon our moral nature with the most emphatic claims.

(1) That God is our Creator.

(2) That Christ is our Saviour.


1. James recognises the sorrowful condition and painful circumstances of those to whom he wrote.

2. The service of James was rendered effective by the ministry of the pen,



1. It is jubilant because united to the highest source of joy and hope.

2. Because it has to console the world’s sorrow.

3. Are we all engaged in this service? (Joseph S. Exell, M. A.)

Servants of God and Christ

Men are the servants of God either generally or particularly. Generally, they are all the servants of Jesus Christ whosoever profess His religion and promise their service unto Him in the general calling of a Christian. Specially, they are called the servants of God and of Christ who in some chief calling do homage unto God and promote His kingdom. So princes in commonwealths, preachers and ministers in the Church of Christ, are servants of God and of Christ in special service. It we were princes, prelates, angels, yet this is the height of all glory, to rejoice in the service of Christ. Who are we, and what are our fathers’ houses, who can imagine greater glory than to be servants unto Christ?

1. Now, this name of servant must teach us humility, that we submit ourselves to Christ, whose servants we are, and for His sake and by His example to serve one another, whereunto He exhorteth (Matthew 20:25-27); whereunto His example in washing His disciples’ feet serveth John 13:4-7; John 13:10; John 13:17). Submit yourselves one to another, deck yourselves inwardly in lowliness of mind, for God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble. Hereof our profession and calling putteth us in remembrance, who are servants by calling, to serve God in spirit and truth, and to serve one another in the fear of God.

2. By our service we are furthermore taught what we owe unto Christ Jesus our Lord, even all service, which is the end of our redemption and cleansing by Christ from our sins (Luke 1:74-75). Let us, then, in the fear of God, confess Him with our mouths, praise Him with our tongues, believe Him with our hearts, glorify Him in our works, and in all things serve Him as it becometh us; for--

(1) He hath made us, and not we ourselves;

(2) He hath redeemed us, not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but by His own blood;

(3) He sayeth us from death and delivereth us from peril and trouble;

(4) He advanceth us to glory.

3. Servants ought to imitate such virtues as they find to shine in their masters. We are the servants of Christ; we are bound, therefore, to imitate His meekness, patience, humility, love, long-sufferance, liberality, kindness, forgiveness of offences, and the like virtues, which shone in the whole life of Jesus Christ.

4. Servants must attend upon their masters’ will, wait their leisures, rely upon their care for them, seek all necessaries at their hands; so we, the servants of Christ, must do His will in all things, wait His leisure patiently for our deliverance, depend upon His provided care, and in all our necessities have recourse to Him by prayer.

5. That St. James entitleth himself the “servant of Christ,” he doth not only intimate that he was the servant, the minister and ambassador of Jesus Christ, the Prince of all the princes of the earth, but also giveth us to understand how carefully he had executed that office unto him committed; and if we diligent]y peruse the writings of the apostles we shall find them no less, in consideration of their faithfulness, in performing their duties, than in regard of their high callings, to have termed themselves the servants of Christ.

6. In that he calleth himself the “servant of Christ” he teacheth us that as many as will be the true servants of Christ must addict themselves wholly unto His service, because no man can serve two masters, God and Mammon, Christ and Belial.

7. That he professeth in open writing that he was the servant of Jesus Christ, and that in those dangerous days when wickedness flourished and Christian religion was persecuted: it teacheth God’s saints that they must never be ashamed to confess Jesus Christ. (R. Turnbull.)

A servant of God and of Christ

James is not only God’s servant by the right of creation and providence, but Christ’s servant by the right of redemption; yea, especially deputed by Christ as Lord, that is, as mediator and head of the Church, to do Him service in the way of an apostle; and I suppose there is some special reason for this disjunction, “a servant of God and of Christ,” to show his countrymen that in serving Christ he served the God of his fathers, as Paul pleaded (Acts 26:6-7), that in standing for Christ he did but stand for “the hope of the promise made unto the fathers, unto which promise the twelve tribes, serving God day and night, hope to come.” (T. Manton.)

Moral relationship better than carnal

James, the Lord’s kinsman, calls himself the Lord’s” servant.” Inward privileges are the best and most honourable, and spiritual kin is to be preferred before carnal. (T. Manton.)


1. The truest relation to Christ is founded in grace, and we are far happier in receiving Him by faith than in touching Him by blood; and he that endeavours to do His will may be as sure of Christ’s love as if he were linked to Him by the nearest outward relations.

2. It is no dishonour to the highest to be Christ’s servant. James, whom Paul calls “a pillar,” calls himself “a servant of Christ”; and David, a king, Psalms 84:10).

3. The highest in repute and office in the Church yet are still but servants.

4. In all services we must honour the Father and the Son also (John 5:23). Do duties so as you may honour Christ in them; and so--

(1) Look for their acceptance in Christ. Oh! it would be sad if we were only to look to God the Father in duties. But now it is said that “in Christ we have access with boldness and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12), for in Him those attributes which are in themselves terrible become comfortable; as water, which is salt in the ocean, being strained through the earth, becometh sweet in the rivers, that in God which, out of Christ, striketh terror into the soul, in Christ begets a confidence.

(2) Look for your assistance from Him. You serve God in Christ--

(a) When you serve God through Christ (Philippians 4:13).

(b) When you have an eye to the concernments of Christ in all your service of God (2 Corinthians 5:15).

(c) When all is done for Christ’s sake (2 Corinthians 5:14). (T. Manton.)

“A servant”

He makes no mention of his apostleship. The explanation may be that it was not called in question, and so did not require to be vindicated or asserted. This title may have been a kind of official designation, indicative, not only of his personal character, but also of his ministerial calling, or it may simply have been expressive of his devotion to the work and will of God in common with all His true people. In either case it was of a simple, unassuming description. He comes down to a level with the rest of his brethren. He claims no distinction but what the whole of them, in substance, possess (Psalms 116:16). And yet, while in this respect low, in another how high the title here taken! We never can get beyond it; no, not in a state of glory--not when at the perfection of our being. No creature, not even the archangel nearest the throne, can climb higher; nor does he desire. It is said of the redeemed inhabitants of the new Jerusalem, “His servants shall serve Him.” “And of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Here comes in the distinctively Christian element. The Old Testament saints might be, and often were, honoured by being called “the servants of God.” James had much of the spirit which animated these ancestral worthies. In his character and habits he resembled one of the ancient priests or prophets. But by what he thus added he marked out himself and his fellow-disciples from all who preceded. The two parts were perfectly consistent, the two masters but one in reality. (John Adam.)

“A servant of God,” &c.

This title conveys more than the general notion of one who believes in and obeys God and the Lord Jesus Christ. The call he had received, the mission and special field of labour assigned him, are also embodied in the term. It is equivalent to the “servant of the Lord” of the Old Testament, a designation with which only a few of the members of the Hebrew Church were honoured, who were raised up by God for some specific work: the founding of a covenant, as in the case of Abraham and Moses: the inaugurating of some step in advance, or the introduction of some new phase or development of the system, as in the case of Joshua, David, and Zerubbabel. Thus St. James had a special service entrusted to him, which appears in this very Epistle to have been to make an appeal to a particular section of his brethren. (F. T. Basett, M. A.)

An argument for the Deity of Christ

If any modern teacher were to sign himself “a servant of God and of Calvin,” or “of Arminius,” should we not shrink as from a wanton blasphemy, and charge him with having spoken of a mere man as though he were “the fellow of the Lord of hosts”? Judge, then, what James meant when ha described himself as equally bound to the service of Jesus and of God. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Scattered abroad

The dispersion

What scattering or dispersion is here intended?

1. Either that which was occasioned by their ancient captivities, and the frequent changes of nations, for so there were some Jews that still lived abroad, supposed to be intended in that expression, “Will he go to the dispersed among the Gentiles?” (John 7:35). Or--

2. More lately by the persecution spoken of in the eighth of the Acts. Or--

3. By the hatred of Claudius, who commanded all the Jews to depart from Acts 18:2). And it is probable that the like was done in other great cities. The Jews, and amongst them the Christians, being everywhere cast out, as John out of Ephesus, and others out of Alexandria. Or--

4. Some voluntary dispersion, the Hebrews living here and there among the Gentiles a little before the declension and ruin of their state, some in Cilicia, some in Pontus, &c. (T. Manton.)

God regards the afflicted

God looks after His afflicted servants: He moveth James to write to the scattered tribes: the care of heaven flourisheth towards you when you wither. (T. Manton.)

The dispersion

James had in view Jews, not simply as such, but as Christians; that is, believers of his own nation. They were his special charge; and that it was to them he now wrote, is evident from the nature and design of the Epistle. They were the true Israel. They were the seed of Abraham, not after the flesh only, but also after the Spirit. They were the proper representatives of the holy nation; and as such may have been indicated by the language here used. While they were directly addressed, the Gentile converts were not excluded, for they formed with them one Church and community. Nor did the apostle fail to make most pointed references to the state of things among their antichristian brethren--a state of things by which they were more or less injuriously affected. Their outward condition, as thus scattered abroad, was a kind of reflection of the spiritual condition of God’s people in all lands and ages. They are strangers and sojourners on the earth; they are wanderers, wayfarers, at a distance from home, and engaged in seeking a country. They are citizens of heaven; their Father’s house and native land are there; their inheritance and their hearts are not below, but above. Their present state is one of dispersion. (John Adam.)

The dispersion

The pilgrim troops of the law became caravans of the gospel. (C. Wordsworth.)


Peace heightened into joy

When Hebrew met Hebrew, the one saluted the other with “Peace to you”; for they had learned that the real blessedness of life was to be at peace with all the world, themselves, and God. But when Greek met Greek, the one saluted the other with “Joy to you,” the Greeks being lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of peace. Of course, when they used this salutation, they did not always recognise its full meaning, any more than we, when we say, “Good-bye,” always remember that the word means, that it is a contraction of, “God be with you” But St. James both compels his readers to think of its meaning, by continuing, “Count it all joy when ye fall into manifold trials,” and at once proceeds to put a higher, a Christian, meaning into the heathen salutation. His joy, the joy he wishes them, is not that pleasant exhilaration which results from gratified senses or tastes of which the Greeks were conscious when things went to their mind; nor that heightened and happy consciousness of the sweetness of life which they held to be the supreme good. It was rather the “peace” for which the Hebrew sighed; but that peace intensified into a Divine gladness, elevated into a pure and sacred delight. It was the joy which springs from being restored to our true relations to God and man, from having all the conflicting passions, powers, and aims of the soul drawn into a happy accord. It was that fine spiritual essence which radiates new vigour and delight through all the faculties and affections of nature when we stay ourselves no longer on the changeful phenomena of time, but on the sacred and august realities of eternity. A peace all shot through and through with the rich exhilarating hues of gladness, this was the “joy” which St. James invoked on the twelve tribes of the Dispersion. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Verses 2-4

James 1:2-4

Count it all Joy when ye fall Into divers temptations

The Christian’s duty in times of trial

This positive injunction of the Christian ethics may seem too difficult, if not impossible to be obeyed.

And even if the natural repugnance to suffering can be vanquished, the moral sense still shrinks from what is here commanded, to rejoice in temptation. The paradox is not to be removed by violently changing the established meaning of the word, which never means affliction simply, but in every case conveys the idea of a moral trial, or a test of character. A temptation, to which patience is the proper antidote, must be specifically a temptation to impatience, a rebellious temper, to which we are tempted by a state of suffering. We must, therefore, understand the words as having reference to those providential trials of men’s faith and patience in which they are rather passive than active, and under which their appropriate duty is not so much resistance as submission. But even these trials and temptations are not to be sought for or solicited. It is not the mere name, or pretence, or some infinitesimal degree of joy, that believers under trial are to exercise, but “all joy” as opposed to none, and to too little, and to every kind of counterfeit. So far from repining when you fall into divers trials, “count it all joy.” But as we know, both from Scripture and experience, that no “chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous, and that afterward (ὕστερον) it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11). This is perfectly consistent with the form of expression (ὃταν περιπέσητε) which might even be translated to mean “when” or “after,” “ye have fallen into divers trials.” This precise determination of the time at which the joy is to be exercised, as not the time of actual endurance, much less that of previous expectation, but rather that of subsequent reflection--I mean subsequent, if not to the whole trial, yet at least to its inception--this may throw some light on two points. The first is the paradoxical aspect of the exhortation to rejoice in that which necessarily involves pain and suffering. The paradox, to say the least, may seem less startling if we understand the text as calling upon men to rejoice, not that they are suffering, or while they suffer, although even this does not transcend the limits of experience, as we know from the triumphant joy of martyrs at the stake, and of many a lowlier believer on his death-bed, but that they have suffered, that it has pleased God, without their own concurrence, to afford them the occasion of attesting their fidelity, and submission to His will. The other point on which the same consideration may throw some light, is the choice of an expression which, although it primarily signifies no more than moral trial or a test of character, in general usage does undoubtedly denote a positive solicitation to do wrong. For even in this worst sense of temptation, it may be a subject of rejoicing, not beforehand, no, nor in the very crisis of the spiritual conflict; but when that is past, looking back upon the fearful risk which has been escaped, not merely with gratitude for its deliverance, but with unaffected joy that there was such a risk to be delivered from, because it has now, served to magnify God’s grace, and at the same time to attest its own fidelity. Just as the soldier, who would have been guilty of the grossest rashness, if he had deliberately thrown himself into the way of a superior enemy, may--when unexpectedly surrounded and attacked, he has heroically cut his way through--rejoice, not only in his safety, but in the very danger which compelled him to achieve it. But the joy experienced in the case before us is not merely retrospective, but prospective also. It is not an ignorant or blind joy, but is founded in knowledge, not only of the principles on which men ought to act, but of the consequences which may be expected from a certain course of action or of suffering. The trials or temptations of the Christian are the test of his faith, both in the strict and comprehensive sense. They put to the proof his trust in God, his belief of a hat God says, of what He promises. But in so doing, they afford the surest test of his whole religious character. Specific trust in God’s veracity and faithfulness cannot be an insulated act, or habit. It must have its causes and effects homogeneous to itself in the man’s creed, in his heart, in his life. But it does not merely furnish present evidence of faith. It produces a permanent effect upon the character. It generates a habit of patient endurance in the way of God’s commandments, For of patience, as of faith, it may be said that it cannot stand alone, independently of other graces of Christian character. The principle of active and passive obedience is the same. He who will not do God’s will cannot endure it in a Christian spirit. He can only endure it in the way of punishment. Evangelical patience carries with it evangelical obedience or activity. It therefore comprehends a very large part of practical religion, and to say that it is matured by trial is to say that trial or temptation, in the sense here put upon the term, is an important means of grace, of spiritual growth, and instead of being angrily complained of as a hardship, ought not indeed to be desired any more than medicines, especially when composed of poisons, should be used as ordinary food; but when administered, without our agency or even option, by the Great Physician, should be thankfully submitted to, and afterwards rejoiced in, as a potent agency of God’s appointment which produces great effects, not by a sudden change, but, as the original expression seems to mean, by a gradual and long-continued process; for the trial of our faith “worketh out,” elaborates, and as it were laboriously cultivates a habit of persistent obedience and submission to the will of God, both in the way of doing and suffering. That the patience thus commended is not a sluggish principle, much less a mere condition of repose, but something active in itself and tending to activity in others, is evident enough from the apostle’s exhortation not to hinder it in its operation, but to let it have its perfect work or full effect. Could tills be said of mere inertia, or even patient nonresistance? All this affords abundant room for wise discrimination. It is evidently not a matter which can be conducted to a safe issue by mere audacity or force of will, by cutting knots which ought to be untied, which can neither solve themselves nor be solved by any intellectual force short of wisdom in the highest sense. This wisdom, the idea of which was familiar to the wisest of the heathen, has been realised only in the school of revelation. And woe to him who undertakes, without it, to solve the intricate and fearful problem of man’s character and destiny! (J. A. Alexander, D. D.)

Christ’s school of suffering

Luther has somewhere made that fine confession, that there were chiefly three things which had introduced him into the depths of true divinity, and which he was, therefore, accustomed to recommend to every one as proved--viz., silent meditation on the Word of God; persevering and ardent prayer, together with the Word of God; and inward and outward attacks on account of the Word of God. It is trial which must arouse the spirit plunged into earthly concerns, and benumbed by the influence of the world out of the sleep of security, and point him to that Word which leads the foolish to wisdom, the sinner to righteousness, Besides, in many cases, especially in the days of carnal ease, the flame of prayer, even on the altar of the regenerated man’s heart, would burn out, if trials, returning from time to time, did not carry fresh wood to stir anew the fire of devotion. It is only by struggling that the inward life can become strong: it is only in the storm that the stem of life and godliness can take deeper and firmer roots.

In Germany it is one of the requisites of civil law, that he who wants to become a citizen SHALL PASS THROUGH THE POPULAR SCHOOL. They, therefore, speak of a legal school-duty which no one is permitted to shun.

There is, also, such a duty in the kingdom of God. He who wants to become a citizen of that kingdom must not refuse to enter the school of suffering which the Lord Himself has instituted on earth, and sanctified by His example. Already, as the natural descendant of Adam, the first sinner, every one has to carry his share of the common misery which weighs on humanity, and cannot avoid it. But what for the natural man is only a constraint laid upon him from without, is, in the case of the Christian, spiritualised and glorified into a deed of voluntary obedience. “The disciple is not above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord. If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” “We must, through much tribulation, enter into the kingdom of God.” They declare the duty of suffering to be a general law of the Christian life. If, therefore, we look into the roll of the citizens of the heavenly kingdom, we do not find there a single one who had not, in the school of suffering, to resolve heavier or easier tasks, and been obliged to stop longer or shorter there. You have, therefore, no right to complain, if the Lord takes you into the school of suffering, and there assigns you your task. You thereby only fulfil an obligation incumbent upon you as a citizen of the kingdom of God. You will not wish to be exempt from what is the lot of every one. Yea, it is an honour for you to belong to a school through which have passed the prophets and the apostles themselves, and out of which are come the first-fruits of the creatures of God.

The peculiarity of each school arises out of THE FIXED AIM TRIED TO BE ATTAINED WITH THE PUPILS, AND FOR WHICH, THEREFORE, ALL SCHOOL ARRANGEMENTS ARE CALCULATED. Thus, the burgher-school wants to form able burghers; the practical school, clever tradesmen; the military school, gallant soldiers; the college, intelligent servants of the sate and of the Church. In a similar manner, Christ’s school of suffering pursues a fixed aim. He wants to form His pupils into thoroughly-qualified men; in short, He wants to make nothing less of them than princes and priests in the kingdom of the immortal God. His patience and His obedience, His meekness and His humility, His firm faith and His persevering hope, His victorious fight and His glorious perfection, are to be reflected in the trial of their sufferings, so that He may be able to behold in them the true followers of His spirit, and sharers of His glorious life. From this point of view the apostles considered their sufferings, and by this the sharpest sting of them was broken, and the bitterest cup was wonderfully sweetened. “We always bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” We are sorry to perceive that this apostolical apprehension of sufferings has become so rare among us. If faith can only lay hold on that thought, the burden of suffering is thereby diminished, and we are able to say, with St. Paul, “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

But, besides the aim of the school, there must, in each well-regulated establishment, also exist A FIXED PLAN AFTER WHICH TO PROCEED. If there is to be progress in the studies of the pupils, a well-pondered plan must not be wanting, by which is determined in what gradation the various branches are to be imparted, and what method of teaching must be observed. For Christ’s school of suffering, too, there is a fixed plan according to which the pupils are treated. It is in good hands, for it has been made by Him who gives term and measure to each thing, and always remembers that we are dust and ashes. As soon as the height fixed by Him is reached, the waters will fall again, the storm will abate, thou wilt again perceive the dry land, and thy soul will be permitted to thank the Lord on her harp, that He has been the help of thy countenance and thy God. (W. Hofacker.)



1. Numerous. They come one after another in quick succession, attack us at every point, and, by reiterated importunity, wear out resistance. A continual dropping wears the stone, and blow after blow shatters the fortress.

2. Diversified. The trials are addressed to the different elements of our nature, and are brought to bear on the ever-varying conditions of our life.

3. Combined. They conspire to encompass and overthrow, with such close and serried ranks that there seems no way of escape, and the sorely beset sufferer says, “All these things are against me.”

4. Intensified. Often, in the case of Christians of every age, the trials which befall them are more grievous from the time, place, and manner of their occurrence--sufferings inflicted through those that are dear, or when weakened by age or infirmity, and removed from the sympathy and succour of friends.

TRIALS ARE A NECESSARY CHRISTIAN DISCIPLINE. They are designed to reveal to us our own sinfulness and weakness, to discover the graces of the Spirit, to prove the strength of our faith, the ardour of our love, the constancy of our devotion. Like the tree which becomes the more firmly Tooted by the blasts which toss and twist its branches, the believer only clings more tenaciously to his Lord when his soul is tried by affliction.

TRIALS ARE A COMPLETION OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. What but lives thus perfected by the chastening hand of God can bow cheerfully beneath poverty, feeble health, and dark days of discouragement, or bear up under calumny and vexatious opposition, or wait and work even though the promise tarry and the blessing seems withheld? In proportion as we endure, we obtain grace in fullest measure, and adequate to every demand or emergency.

TRIALS ARE A SOURCE OF CHRISTIAN GLADNESS. The conscious joy of trials springs from the results which follow them.

1. The honour conferred. Suffering for Christ is a gift of favour.

2. The comfort imparted. A stronger sense of assurance is wrought in the soul, and when trials are peculiarly severe, often a foretaste of future felicity is obtained, and martyrs are more than conquerors.

3. The usefulness achieved. The silent heroism and calm endurance of the sufferer are often more effective in maintaining and spreading the truth than the logical reasoning and persuasive eloquence of the preacher. (W. Ormiston, D. D.)

God’s school of trial for the good


1. Because trials test our faith.

2. The working of faith develops patience.

3. Patience tends to completeness of character.


1. Spiritual excellence is the chief subject of prayer.

2. The great God is the only object of prayer.

3. Unwavering confidence is the power of prayer. (U. R. Thomas.)

The function of trial

Count it all joy” means, “Count it nothing but joy,” “Count it pure joy,” “Count it the highest joy,” when trials of many different kinds surround you. They had trouble enough, and therefore they might have joy enough, if they could but learn the secret of extracting joy from trouble. And why should they not learn it? It is simple enough. A paradox to the thoughtless, it is an axiom with the wise. For “trial” means “test.” And it is as we are tested that we learn our own weakness, learn what and where it is, and are set on correcting it. The gospel affirms that we are infected with a moral weakness, or disease, of which our sorrows are the natural result, and of which they may become a sovereign remedy. For the sorrows bred by sin dispose us to hate and renounce the sin which produces them. The sorrows that disclose unsuspected weakness set us on seeking a strength that shall be made perfect in weakness. Nay, even the sorrows which involve shame and remorse have a cleansing virtue, if only our sorrow be of a godly sort. “But the Jews of the Dispersion,” it may be said, “were not suffering for their sins, but for their virtues, for their faith in Christ and their obedience to His law!” True; but in suffering for our faith, may we not also be suffering for our faults--for the weakness of our faith, for instance? The faith of these Jews must have been weak and immature. It may be that, but for the “many trials” which the hostility of the world and the synagogue brought upon them, they would have remained very imperfectly Christian to the end of their lives, even if they had remained Christian at all. Their trials put them on their mettle. When nothing was open to them but publicly renouncing Christ, or cleaving to Him, their choice was clear, their duty plain. They must cleave to Him; and, cleaving to Him, they would be driven closer and closer to Him by the very opposition designed to detach them from Him. On one point, happily for us, St. James is quite clear: viz., that tribulation is discipline; that by the divers trials which befall us God is making, or seeking to make, us perfect and complete. And where can we find a more inspiriting view of tribulation than this? It is God, our reconciled God and Father, who appoints these tests, God who applies them. And therefore we may be sure that they come for good ends. “The proving of your faith worketh patience, i.e., it results in a firm and steadfast constancy, in a fidelity which can face all allurements and fears. “Tried” and “faithful” are all but synonyms in our common speech, so close is the connection between trials and fidelity, But if our trials are to produce this constant and faithful temper in us, we must “let patience have a perfect work.” Since chastening is grievous to us, the danger is that we should seek to escape it as soon as we can, forgetting that only “he that endureth to the end will be saved.” The acid that tries the gold bites the gold, or rather, it bites the alloy in the gold. Tests are painful; and they make unwelcome calls on our fortitude. We must therefore let patience have her perfect work, we must suffer our constancy, our fidelity to God, to be exposed to many and searching trials, if we would reap the full benefit of our trials. And what is this full benefit? “That ye may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing,” or lacking in nothing. The fall benefit of trial is, that, if we endure it with a patient fidelity, we become mature men in Christ Jesus, nay, complete men, lacking nothing that a Christian man should have and enjoy. And what higher reward could possibly be set before a reasonable and religious being? What we want, what we know we want, most of all, is to have our character fully and happily developed, its various and often hostile affections and aims absorbed and harmonized, by having them all brought under law to Christ. To become such men as He was, and to walk even as also He walked, is not this the supreme end of all who call and profess themselves Christians? is it not our chief good, our highest blessedness? (S. Cox, D. D.)

Joy in serious trial

In “Count it all joy,” i.e., “Consider it as nothing but matter for rejoicing,” we miss a linguistic touch which is evident in the Greek, but cannot well be preserved in English. In saying “joy” (χάραν) St. James is apparently carrying on the idea just started in the address, “greeting” (χαίρειν), i.e., “wishing joy.” “I wish you joy; and you must account as pure joy all the troubles into which you may fall.” It is just possible that “all joy” (πᾶσαν χάραν) is meant exactly to balance “manifold temptations” (πειρασμοῖς ποικίλοις). Great diversity of troubles is to be considered as in reality every kind of joy. Nevertheless, the troubles are not to be of our own making or seeking. It is not when we inflict suffering on ourselves, but when we “fall into” it, and therefore may regard it as placed in our way by God, that we are to look upon it as a source of joy rather than of sorrow. The word for “fall into” (περιπίπτειν) implies not only that what one falls into is unwelcome, but also that it is unsought and unexpected. Moreover, it implies that this unforeseen misfortune is large enough to encircle or overwhelm one. It indicates a serious calamity. What St. James has principally in his mind are external trials, such as poverty of intellect (verse 5), or of substance (verse 9), or persecution (James 2:6-7), and the like; those worldly troubleswhich test our faith, loyalty, and obedience, and tempt us to abandon our trust in God, and to cease to strive to please Him. The trials by which Satan was allowed to tempt Job are the kind of temptations to be understood here. They are material for spiritual joy, because--

1. They are opportunities for practising virtue, which cannot be learned without practice, nor practised without opportunities.

2. They teach us that we have here no abiding city, for a world in which such things are possible cannot be a lasting home,

3. They make us more Christlike.

4. We have the assurance of Divine support, and that no more will ever be laid upon us than we, relying upon that support, can bear.

5. We have the assurance of abundant compensation here and hereafter. St. James here is only echoing the teaching of his Brother (Matthew 5:11-12). In the first days after Pentecost he had seen the apostles acting in the very spirit which he here enjoins, and he had himself very probably taken part in doing so (Acts 5:41; cf. Acts 4:23-30). St. Peter (1 Peter 1:6) and St. Paul (Romans 5:3) teach the same doctrine of rejoicing in tribulation. There is no inconsistency in teaching such doctrine, and yet praying, “Lead us not into temptation.” Not only is there no sin in shrinking from both external trials and internal temptations; but such is the weakness of the human will, that it is only reasonable humility to pray to God not to allow us to be subjected to severe trials. Nevertheless, when God in His wisdom has permitted such things to come upon us, the right course is, not to be sorrowful, as though something quite intolerable had overtaken us, but to rejoice that God has thought us capable of enduring something for His sake, and has given us the opportunity of strengthening our patience and our trust in Him. This doctrine of joy in suffering, which at first sight seems to be almost superhuman, is shown by experience to be less hard than the apparently more human doctrine of resignation and fortitude. And here it may be noticed that St. James is no cynic or stoic. He does not tell us that we are to anticipate misfortune, and cut ourselves off from all those things the loss of which might involve suffering; or that we are to trample on” our feelings, and act as if we had none, treating sufferings as if they were non-existent, or as if they in no way affected us. He points out to us that temptations, and especially external trials, are really blessings, if we use them aright; and he teaches us to meet them in that conviction. And it is manifest that the spirit in which to welcome a blessing is the spirit of joy and thankfulness. St. James does not bid us accept this doctrine of joy in tribulation upon his personal authority. It is no philosopher’s ipse dixit. He appeals to his readers’ own experience: “Knowing that the proof of your faith worketh patience.” “Knowing,” i.e., “in that ye are continually finding out and getting to know.” The verb and the tense indicate progressive and continuous knowledge, as by the experience of daily life; and this teaches us that proving and testing not only brings to light, but brings into existence, patience. This patience (ὑπομονή), this abiding firm under attack or pressure, must be allowed full scope to regulate all our conduct; and then we shall see why trials are a matter for joy rather than sorrow, when we find ourselves moving onwards towards, not the barrenness of stoical “self-sufficiency” (αὐτάρκεια), but the fulness of Divine perfection. “That ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing,” is perhaps one of the many reminiscences of Christ’s words which we shall find in this letter of the Lord’s brother (Matthew 5:48). (A. Plummer, D. D.)

The power of trial

It is absolutely essential that a teacher of moral ethics should be--

(1) Of joyful disposition;

(2) Competent to lead men into the depths of Christian character.


1. The trials to which these Jewish Christians were exposed. Though Christian people are not; now called to endure persecution, yet they are not without their individual trials; though they hear not the shouts and clamour of an invading foe, they are subject to the ravages of death; though they are not exposed to the intrigue of the political marauder, yet they are liable to the crash of commercial panic; though they are not exposed to the invective of aa enraged countryman, yet they are liable to the calumny of the idle gossip.

2. There was in the trials of these Jewish Christians an element of temptation.

(1) These temptations were numerous--“divers.” They were persecuted; their homes were plundered; their property was pillaged; they were exposed to poverty; they were liable to assassination.

(2) Variegated--“divers.” There was a blending in them of hope and promise; there was the fortune of war, and the promise of their countrymen to lure them.

(3) Precipitous and all-surrounding--“when ye fall into.” Grief comes unexpectedly.

3. These trials were to be made the occasion of joy. The Christian life is a grand paradox. In temptation it is in hope; in pain it is in gladness; in sorrow it is in joy; in old age it verges on immortal youth.

4. These Jewish Christians were addressed in the language of deep sympathy. St. James knew that they were in trial, and felt it his duty to write to console and guide them. Some men object to letter-writing; they cannot write even to sorrowing friends. Where are their brotherly instincts? We are near to Christ when trying to aid the sorrowful.


1. Trial tests the reality of Christian faith. If under it we manifest the nobler moral qualities of the Christian character; if we are calm in thought, resigned in temper, prayerful in spirit, and patient in disposition, our faith must be genuine, as such graces are only the outcome of a veritable heart-trust in the Saviour.

2. A tried faith is a potential influence within the soul. No one can estimate the power of a faith that has survived the ordeal of temptation to give energy to a soul, beauty to a character, charm to a life, and influence with the world at large.


1. Patience consists in a calm waiting for the unfolding of the Divine will and providence.

2. Patience should be constant and progressive in its exercise--coordinate with every trial, superior to every distress, gathering new energy from its continued exercise.

THE POWER OF TRIAL TO ENHANCE THE PERFECTION OF MORAL CHARACTER. St. James is not writing of the perfection of unrenewed human nature, but of the sublime possibility of Christian manhood. He is writing of a life that is animated by faith, that is cultured by deep sorrow, and that is capable of holy patience. (Joseph S. Exell, M. A.)

All joy in all trials

James calls the converted among the twelve tribes his brethren. Christianity has a great uniting power: it both discovers and creates relationships among the sons of men. It reminds us of the ties of nature, and binds us with the bonds of grace. Whatever brotherhood may be a sham, let the brotherhood of believers be the most real thing beneath the stars. Beginning with this word “brethren,” James shows a true brotherly sympathy with believers in their trials, and this is a main part of Christian fellowship. If we are not tempted ourselves at this moment, others are: let us remember them in our prayers; for in due time our turn will come, and we shall be put trite the crucible, Remembering the trials of his brethren, James tries to cheer them, and therefore he says, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers trials.” It is a part of our high calling to rise ourselves into confidence; and it is also our duty to see that none of our brethren despond, much less despair. The whole tendency of our holy faith is to elevate and to encourage. The message of the gospel is one of gladness, and were it universally received this world would be no longer a wilderness, but would rejoice and blossom as the rose.


1. It is your faith which is tried. It is supposed that you have that faith. You are not the people of God, you are not truly brethren unless you are believers. It is this faith of yours which is peculiarly obnoxious to Satan and to the world which lieth in the wicked one. The hand of faith is against all evil, and all evil is against faith. Faith is that blessed grace which is most pleasing to God, and hence it is most displeasing to the devil. He rages at faith because he sees therein his own defeat and the victory of grace. Because the trial of your faith brings honour to the Lord, therefore the Lord Himself is sure to try it that out of its trial praise may come to His grace by which faith is sustained. It is by our faith that we are saved, justified, and brought near to God, and therefore it is no marvel that it is attacked. Faith is the standard bearer, and the object of the enemy is to strike him down that the battle may be gained. It is by our faith that we live; we began to live by it, and we continue to live by it, for “the just shall live by faith.” Hold fast, therefore, this your choice treasure. It is by faith, too, that Christians perform exploits. Faith is the conquering principle: therefore it is Satan’s policy to slay it even as Pharaoh sought to kill the male children when Israel dwelt in Egypt.

2. Now, think of how faith is tried. According to the text we are said to fail into “manifold temptations “or into “divers temptations”--that is to say, we may expect very many and very different troubles. In any case these trials will be most real. Our temptations are no inventions of nervousness nor hobgoblins of dreamy fear. Ay, and note too, that the trials of Christians are such as would in themselves lead us into sin. A man is very apt to become unbelieving under affliction: that is a sin. He is apt to murmur against God under it. He is apt to put forth his hand to some ill way of escaping from his difficulty: and that would be a sin. Hence we are taught to pray, “Lead us not into temptation”; because trial has in itself a measure of temptation, and if it were not neutralised by abundant grace it would bear us towards sin. I suppose that every test must have in it a measure of temptation. Did ever a flower of grace blossom in this wretched clime without being tried with frost or blight? Our way is up the river; we have to stem the current, and struggle against a flood which would readily bear us to destruction. Thus, not only trials, but black temptations assail the Christian’s faith. As to what shape they take, we may say this much: the trial or temptation of each man is distinct from that of every other, That which would most severely test me would perhaps be no trial to you; and that which tries you might be no temptation to me. This is one reason why we often judge one another so severely, because feeling ourselves to be strong in that particular point we argue that the fallen one must have been strong in that point too, and therefore must have wilfully determined to do wrong. This may be a cruel supposition. “Divers trials,” says the apostle, and he knew what he said. And sometimes these divers trials derive great force from their seemingly surrounding us, and cutting off escape. James says, “Ye fall into divers temptations”: like men who fall into a pit, and do not know how to get out; or like soldiers who fall into an ambuscade.

THE INVALUABLE BLESSING WHICH IS GAINED BY THE TRIAL OF OUR FAITH. The blessing gained is this, that our faith is tried and proved. The effectual proof is by trials of God’s sending. The way of trying whether you are a good soldier is to go down to the battle: the way to try whether a ship is well built is not merely to order the surveyor to examine her, but to send her to sea: a storm will be the best test of her staunchness. They have built a new lighthouse upon the Eddystone: how do we know that it will stand? We judge by certain laws and principles, and feel tolerably safe about the structure; but, after all, we shall know best in after-years when a thousand tempests have beaten upon the lighthouse in vain. We need trials as a test as much as we need Divine truth as our food. Admire the ancient types placed in the ark of the covenant of old: two things were laid close together--the pot of manna and the rod. See how heavenly food and heavenly rule go together: how our sustenance and our chastening are equally provided for! A Christian cannot live without the manna nor without the rod. The two must go together. Sanctified tribulations work the proof of our faith, and this is more precious than that of gold which perisheth, though it be tried by fire.

1. Now, when we are able to bear it without starting aside, the trial proves our sincerity.

2. Next, it proves the truthfulness of our doctrinal belief.

3. Next, your own faith in God is proved when you can cling to Him under temptation. Not only your sincerity, but the divinity of your faith is proved; for a faith that is never tried, how can you depend upon it?

4. I find it specially sweet to learn the great strength of the Lord in my own weakness. The Lord suits the help to the hindrance, and puts the plaster on the wound. In the very hour when it is needed the needed grace is given. Does not this tend to breed assurance of faith?

5. It is a splendid thing to be able to prove even to Satan the purity of your motives. That was the great gain of Job. I reckon that the endurance of every imaginable suffering would be a small price to pay for a settled assurance, which would for ever prevent the possibility of doubt. Therefore, when you are tempted, “Count it all joy” that you are tried, because you will thus receive a proof of your love, a proof of your faith, a proof of your being the true-born children of God. James says, “Count it.” A man requires to be trained to be a good accountant; it is an art which needs to be learned.

THE PRICELESS VIRTUE WHICH IS PRODUCED BY TRIAL, namely, patience; for the proof of your “faith worketh patience.” The man who truly possesses patience is the man that has been tried. What kind of patience does he get by the grace of God?

1. First, he obtains a patience that accepts the trial as from God without a murmur.

2. The next kind of patience is when experience enables a man to bear ill-treatment, slander, and injury without resentment. He feels it keenly, but he bears it meekly.

3. The patience which God works in us by tribulation also takes another form, namely, that of acting without undue haste. In proportion as we grow like the Lord Jesus we shall cast aside disturbance of mind and fury of spirit.

4. That is a grand kind of patience, too, when we can wait without unbelief. Two little words are good for every Christian to learn and to practise--pray and stay. Waiting on the Lord implies both praying and staying.

5. This patience also takes the shape of believing without wavering, in the very teeth of strange providences and singular statements, and perhaps inward misgivings. If, in a word, we learn endurance we have taken a high degree. You look at the weather-beaten sailor, the man who is at home on the sea: he has a bronzed face and mahogany-coloured flesh, he looks as tough as heart of oak, and as hardy as if he were made of iron. How different from us poor landsmen. How did the man become so inured to hardships, so able to breast the storm, so that he does not care whether the wind blows south-west or north-west? He can go out to sea in any kind of weather; he has his sea legs on. How did he come to this strength? By doing business in great waters. He could not have become a hardy seaman by tarrying on shore. Now, trial works in the saints that spiritual hardihood which cannot be learned in ease.

THE SPIRITUAL COMPLETENESS PROMOTED. “That ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Afflictions by God’s grace make us all-round men, developing every spiritual faculty, and therefore they are our friends, our helpers, and should be welcomed with “all joy.” Afflictions find out our weak points, and this makes us attend to them. Being tried, we discover our failures, and then going to God about those failures we are helped to be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. Moreover, our trials, when blessed of God to make us patient, ripen us. A certain measure of sunlight is wanted to bring out the real flavour of fruits, and when a fruit has felt its measure of burning sun it developes a lusciousness which we all delight in. So it is in men and women: a certain amount of trouble appears to be needful to create a certain sugar of graciousness in them, so that they may contain the rich, ripe juice of a gracious character. Sanctified trials produce a chastened spirit. Some of us by nature are untender; but after awhile friends notice that the roughness is depart-ins, and they are quite glad to be more gently handled. Ah, that sick chamber did the polishing; under God’s grace, that depression of spirit, that loss, that cross, that bereavement--these softened the natural ruggedness, and made the man meek and lowly, like his Lord. Sanctified trouble has a great tendency to breed sympathy, and sympathy is to the Church as oil to machinery. A man that has never suffered feels very awkward when he tries to sympathise with a tried child of God. He kindly does his best, but he does not know how to go to work at it; but those repeated blows from the rod make us feel for others who are smarting, and by degrees we are recognised as being the Lord’s anointed comforters, made meet by temptation to succour those who are tempted. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Trial a blessing

How THEY WERE TO REGARD THEIR TRIALS (James 1:2). “My brethren,” he says--my brethren both by nature and grace, alike as Jews and Christians, as children of Abraham and children of a better father, the God of Abraham--“count it”--that is, reckon, think it--“all joy”--joy of the highestkind, and, indeed, of every kind--joy not in some small measure, but in the very largest, not in certain but the whole of its elements and aspects. “When ye fall into divers temptations.” The language points to our being unexpectedly surrounded by temptations. It does not apply to the case of those who recklessly rush into them, who by their own presumption or folly bring them upon themselves. No happy effects can be looked for then, and the feelings suited to such circumstances are the reverse of joyful. He speaks not simply of temptations, but of “divers,” that is, manifold, various temptations. He exhorts us to be affected in this way, not merely under one or two of them, but under any number, succession, combination of them--under them not only when they are of this or that kind, but whatever kind they happen to be of--under them not only when they come singly and go speedily, but even when they rush upon us from every side, and seem as if they would never take their departure. James here but reiterates the teaching of the Great Master (Matthew 5:12). Many in early times found it possible to obey the injunction (Acts 5:41; 2Co Romans 5:3; Hebrews 10:34). Trials of any kind, such as earthly losses, bodily afflictions, domestic sorrows, spiritual assaults, are painful in their nature. Not only so, there is an element of danger in every one of them, there is the risk of failure, of dishonouring God in the fires, and losing the benefit of the visitation. But when we are providentially brought into such circumstances, then we should feel not only calmly submissive, but even gratefully glad. We are in a Father’s hand, His purposes are all wise and gracious, and, in the very midst of our heaviness, we should greatly rejoice.

WHY THEY WERE THUS TO REGARD THEIR TRIALS (verse 3). If we remember how apt we are to deceive ourselves--how ready to rest in mere appearances, when all is prosperous and pleasant--how we need to be shaken and sifted to know what in reality and at bottom we are--we shall hail whatever searches us through and through, even though it may pierce like a sword, or scorch like a furnace. But how is the result brought about? “Knowing this,” he says, knowing it as you do, both by the testimony of God’s Word and the experience of God’s people--knowing it as a thing often evidenced and indubitably certain--“that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” Faith is the primary, radical grace of the Christian character. From it, as a root, all the others spring; on it, as a foundation, all the others are built. It is the grand principle of the new life, which grows as it grows, and declines as it declines. “It worketh patience”--endurance, perseverance, which is more than calm submission to theDivine will, even resolute, energetic constancy in the doing of that will, a standing out, a holding on, and pressing forward in spite of the sufferings undergone. Hence it is said elsewhere, “Knowing that tribulation”--which corresponds to the trying or proving in the present case, for it is effected by means of tribulation--“worketh patience, and patience experience” Romans 5:3-4). This is the result brought about, the effect produced. Such dealings not only evince the reality of faith, but promote its growth, for they stir it into more conscious and vigorous exercise. The most tried Christians are the strongest. The proving of faith issues in endurance, and at every step this endurance grows less difficult and less precarious. Past evidences of the Divine love, wisdom, and faithfulness in the time of need, stablish the heart and banish fears in prospect of impending and under the pressure of present trials. Thus there is a going from strength to strength in the path of suffering. But here the apostle pauses, as it were, and turns aside for a moment to exhort those whom he addresses regarding this patience (verse 4). Let this endurance not stop short in its course; let it produce its full effect, work out its complete result. How needful the counsel! We grow weary, grasp at premature deliverances, have recourse to questionable expedients. *We are net willing to wait God’s time and way of extrication. In order to have its perfect work it must act, not partially, but fully; and, I add, it must act not temporarily, but permanently. The purpose of the whole, and the effect, when realised, is, “that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Let it be perfect, and we are perfect; so wide is the influence, so precious are the fruits of the grace of patience. The language here may be expressive of Christian completeness or maturity--of the new life in its full development, its well-balanced, vigorous exercise. He who is not only sound but strong, no longer a babe but now a man, is so far perfect. “Entire”--that is, having every requisite element and feature, and each in its proper place, all that enters into stability and consistency of character, to the exclusion of whatever is of an opposite tendency, and might have the effect of marring or weakening. As if that were not enough, he adds, “wanting nothing”--nothing essential to spiritual manhood, to the thoroughness of our personal Christianity. In proportion as we have this endurance at work, we possess grace in all its varied forms and ripest fruits--grace adequate to every duty and emergency.

1. See here the mark to which we should ever be pressing forward. Christians, you are not to be satisfied with holiness that is partial either in its extent, its compass, or in its degree. You are to seek that it may fully pervade every power and relation of your being.

2. See the discipline by which alone this mark can be reached. There must be endurance to the end; and that comes only in the way, and as the fruit of trial. The gold cannot be tested and refined without the furnace. It is the lashing-waves, the roaring breakers, which round and polish the smooth pebbles of the beach. It is only by being burned or bruised that certain spices reveal their fragrance. (John Adam.)

Benefit of temptations

Of what temptations, think you, was the apostle speaking? Did he mean, think you, that we were to “count it all joy,” when we were tempted to the things which are pleasurable to our fleshly appetites, our senses, our pride, but which displease God? Even these temptations may be turned to good by the overpowering grace of God, because every trial in which, by His grace, we stand does bring us larger grace and greater favour of God. But out of such temptations it is a joy to have passed. But there is no joy to fall into them; because even apart from the issue, whether we conquer or are conquered, there is the separate peril whether, by a momentary consent, we displease God. What were, then, the temptations into which the early Christians were chiefly exposed to fall, into which the apostle bids them “count it all joy” to fall? St. Paul recounts them where he speaks of these things which, by the grace of Christ, shall not separate from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35-37; Romans 5:3). But why, then, are we to count such temptations as these joy? Why is it to be a joy to have to forego what flesh and blood desire, to do what flesh and blood shrink from?

1. First (which contains all), it is a token of the love of God. It is a badge of our sonship, an earnest of our future inheritance. To be without trial would be to be neglected by God. To have trial is a proof that God is thinking of us, caring for us, giving us something which may approve us to Him. It is not the happy lot to have few troubles. The greatest friends of God had most and the heaviest. The happiest lot is to receive in peace, whether more or fewer, what God permits, and by His grace to endure, and to be more than conquerors through Christ that loved us; strengthened by our very conflicts, proofs against temptations through temptations; abounding in grace through the victories of grace, cleaving close to God by overcoming that which would separate us from Him.

2. Then, suffering likens us to Christ; it is a portion of the Cross of Christ.

3. Then, trouble bursts the bonds of this life and shows us the nothingness of all created things. Trouble drives the soul into itself, teaches it to know itself and its own weakness, rouses it when torpid, humbles it when it lifts itself up, strengthens the inner man, softens the heart, cuts off offences, guards virtues. Yet not only are those severer troubles channels of God’s grace to the soul, but even temptation itself, when the soul hates it, purifies it. Then only is temptation dangerous when it is pleasant. Then flee it, as worse than a serpent, for it threatens thy soul’s life. The apostle speaks not of temptations which we run into, temptations which we seek out for ourselves or make for ourselves, temptations which we tamper with; but temptations into which, by God’s providence, we fall. The least, if thou court it, may destroy thy life; out of the greatest, God, if thou seek Him, will make a way of escape; not a mere escape, but out of it, aloft from it, over it. For this the very faith and truth of God are pledged to us that, if we will, we shall prevail. In this way, too, David’s words come true, “It is better to fail into the hands of the Lord than into the hands of man” (2 Samuel 24:14). The trials which God sends, as sorrow, losses, bereavement, sickness, are always directly to our profit if we do not waste them. In strife with temptation only canst thou know thyself. “The unrest of temptation sifts whether a man, when in rest, truly loves God.” Temptation shows us how weak we are to resist the very slightest assaults. We see in our weakness how any good in us (if there be good) is not of us but of God. And so temptation, if we are wise, makes us more watchful. Slighter temptation is either the way into or the way out of greater. Slighter temptations, if yielded to, prove a broad and high way which leads to greater, and, but for God’s mercy, to destruction and death: slighter temptations, if resisted, open the eyes to the peril of greater. Or, again, a great sudden temptation has revealed to the soul the danger of tampering with less. And so temptation drives us to Him who hath said, “Call upon Me in the time of trouble, so will I deliver thee, and thou shalt praise Me.” “I will be with him in trouble,” saith God. “I will be unto him a wall of fire round about.” “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” The depth of trouble calls deeply. The deep earnest cry is answered. The longing of the soul is the presence of Christ. He who gives the grace to cry to Him wills to hear. And with the nearer presence of God to the soul come larger gifts of grace and more joyous hope of pleasing God. Experience has made it a Christian proverb, “God gives no grace to man except upon trouble.” In victory over temptation God gives a holy fervour. He makes the soul to taste and see that it is far sweeter for His sake to forego what the soul desireth than against His will to have it. Then, after or in temptation, God will give thee consolation. As when on earth our Lord called His disciples to rest awhile, He will, after a while, if thou hold out, give thee rest, or else by the very trial He shields thee from some greater trial. And what will the end be? “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.” Every temptation resisted by the grace of God is a jewel in the heavenly crown. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)

The use of trial

The use and ordination of persecution to the people of God is trial. God maketh use of the worst instruments, as fine gold is cast into the fire, the most devouring element. Innocency is best tried by iniquity. But why doth God try us? Not for His own sake, for He is omniscient; but either--

1. For our sakes, that we may know ourselves. In trials we discern the sincerity of grace, and the weakness and liveliness of it; and so are less strangers to our own hearts. Sincerity is discovered. A gilded potsherd may shine till it cometh to scouring. In trying times God heateth the furnace so hot that dross is quite wasted; every interest is crossed, and then hirelings become changelings. Sometimes we discover our own weakness (Matthew 13:1-58.); we find that faith weak in danger which we thought to be strong out of danger. In pinching weather weak persons feels the aches and bruises of their joints. Sometimes we discern the liveliness of grace. Stars shine in the night that he hid in the day. Spices are most fragrant when burnt and bruised, so have saving graces their chiefest flagrancy in hard times.

2. Or for the world’s sake. And so--

(1) For the present to convince them by our constancy, that they may be confirmed in the faith if weak, or converted if altogether un-called. It was a notable saying of Luther, The Church converted the whole world by blood and prayer. We are proved, and religion is proved, when we are called to sufferings. Paul’s bonds made for the furtherance of the gospel Philippians 1:12-13). Justin Martyr was converted by the constancy of the Christians. When he saw the Christians so willingly choose death, he reasoned thus within himself: Surely these men must be honest, and there is somewhat eminent in their principles. So I remember the author of the Council of Trent said concerning Anne de Burg, a senator of Paris, who was burnt for Protestantism, that the death and constancy of a man so conspicuous did make many curious to know what religion that was for which he bad courageously endured punishment, and so the number was much increased.

(2) We are tried with respect to the day of judgment (1 Peter 1:7). Use: It teaches us to bear afflictions with constancy and patience.

1. God’s aim in your affliction is not destruction, but trial Daniel 11:35).

2. The time of trial is appointed (Daniel 11:35).

3. God sits by the furnace looking after His metal (Malachi 3:3).

4. This trial is not only to approve, but to improve (1 Peter 1:7; Job 23:10). (T. Manton.)

The benefit of trial

There are two general grounds on which believers may well do what is here required of them.

1. In spite of their trials they have precious privileges and exalted prospects--such privileges as peace with God and hearts renewed to righteousness.Psalms 73:24).

2. Their trials themselves are fraught with good. They are part of God’s paternal discipline. They are fitted to give them many salutary lessons respecting the evil of sin and the value of salvation.

3. And, finally, the “trial of their faith,” as the apostle goes on to say, “worketh patience.” (A. S. Patterson, D. D.)

Trial and joy

The first thing he taken notice of is their sufferings--the troubles to which they are exposed on account of their faith in Christ. By and by he will have plenty to say of their sins, of conduct unbecoming Christian believers, conduct he will be sure to rebuke. If you see it to be your duty to point out a man’s sins to him, do not do it till you are quite sure you have let him see that you feel for him with all your heart, and that you have no other wish than to do him good.

1. It verified the faith. Without the trial there might have been suspicion about the reality or the strength of it. The trial came and the faith endured. If you suffer because you are a Christian, this tries you whether you are a Christian. If you suffer in what we call the course of Providence, this tries you whether you have faith in Him who guides and governs all things. And so in every event of life that seems antagonistic to your welfare, it is a test of the reality of your faith, and, therefore, a ground of joy.

2. Trial not only verifies faith, it strengthens it as well, strengthens it so that it is stronger through the trial than it was before. The reason is plain. Whatever exercises faith strengthens faith; whatever compels it to come forth from disuse, whatever rouses it to assert its existence, increases its strength. “Our antagonist is our friend.” Trials provoke faith, and the best thing that can happen to it is just to be provoked. You wrap up a child’s limbs, you give them no free play, you compress the very channels in which the life-blood flows, and you wonder there is no increase of strength.

(1) The purpose of all trial is the trying of faith. Life is the very sphere of trial, and everything that crosses us is a cross in the way we travel to a purer and a stronger faith.

(2) Every kind of a trial which the Christian experiences has its special joy. There is a drop of pleasure in every bitter cup which is peculiar to that cup.

(3) The beneficence of the trial-character of life; of the demand for verification of faith. Would you go to sea in a ship whose engines had not been tested? What about the journey to the eternal would?

(4) How does a man come out from his trials? On a higher plane of spiritual life or on a lower one? He may see here the test.

(5) There are trials before us that may be too strong for us. Let us see to it that our faith now be so confirmed that it will be more than conqueror over whatever the future may contain. (Peter Rutherford.)

Rules whereby to estimate trials

That your judgments may be rectified in point of afflictions, take these rules.

1. Do not judge by sense (Hebrews 12:11).

2. Judge by a supernatural light. Christ’s eye-salve must clear your sight, or else you cannot make a right judgment: there is no fit apprehension of things till you get within the veil, and see by the light of a sanctuary lamp 1 Corinthians 2:11). So David, “In Thy light we shall see light” Psalms 36:9); that is, by His Spirit we come to discern the brightness of glory or grace, and the nothingness of the world.

3. Judge by supernatural grounds. Many times common grounds may help us to discern the lightness of our grief, yea, carnal grounds; your counting must be an holy counting. God’s corrections are sharp, but we have strong corruptions to be mortified; we are called to great trials, but we may reckon upon great hopes, &c. From that “all joy”; afflictions to God’s people do not only minister occasion of patience, but great joy. The world hath no reason to think religion a black and gloomy way. A Christian is a bird that can sing in winter as well as in spring; he can live in the fire like Moses’s bush; burn and not be consumed; nay, leap in the fire. But you will say, Doth not the Scripture allow us a sense of our condition? How can we rejoice in that which is evil?

(1) Not barely in the evil of them; that is so far from being a fruit of grace that it is against nature; there is a natural abhorrency of that which is painful, as we see in Christ Himself (John 12:27).

(2) Their joy is from the happy effects, or consequences, or comforts, occasioned by their sufferings. I will name some.

(a) The honour done to us; that we are singled out to bear witness to the truths of Christ: “To you it is given to suffer” (Philippians 1:29).

(b) The benefit the Church receiveth. Resolute defences gain upon the world. The Church is like an oak, which liveth by its own wounds, and the more limbs are cut off the more new sprouts.

(c) Their own private and particular comforts. God hath consolations proper for martyrs and His children under trials.

The sun shineth many times when it raineth; and they have sweet glimpses of God’s favour when their outward condition is most gloomy and sad. There is a holy greatness of mind, and a joy that becometh the saddest providences. Faith should be above all that befalleth us; it is its proper work to make a believer triumph over every temporary accident. Again, another ground of joy in ordinary crosses is, because in them we may have much experience of grace, of the love of God, and our own sincerity and patience; and that is ground of rejoicing (Romans 5:3). Lastly, all evils are alike to faith; and it would as much misbecome a Christian hope to be dejected with losses as with violence or persecution. You should walk so that the world may know you can live above every condition, and that all the evils are much beneath your hopes.

4. From that “when ye fall,” observe that evils are the better borne when they are undeserved and involuntary; that is, when we fall into them rather than draw them upon ourselves.

5. From that “divers,” God hath several ways wherewith to exercise His people. Crosses seldom come single. When God beginneth once to try He useth divers ways of trial; and, indeed, there is great reason. Divers diseases must have divers remedies. Pride, envy, covetousness, worldliness, wantonness, ambition, are not all cured by the same physic. And learn, too, from hence, that God hath several methods of trial--confiscation, banishment, poverty, infamy, reproach; some trials search us more than others. We must leave it to His wisdom to make choice. Will-suffering is as bad as will-worship.

6. From that word “temptations,” observe, the afflictions of God’s people are but trials. Well, then, behave thyself as one under trial. Let nothing be discovered in thee but what is good and gracious. Men will do their best at their trial; oh, watch over yourselves with the more care that no impatience, vanity, murmuring, or worldliness of spirit may appear in you. (T. Mounters.)

Joy in temptation

1. Of the nature of temptation.

2. Of the joyful result to the true Christian.

3. Of his duty under it.



1. We must here remember, first, the account which St. Paul has given us of God’s dealings: “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” So that, in the suffering of trial, the believer has one especial mark of God’s favour.

2. But though all God’s people are partakers of chastisement, yet, as mere suffering is not a sufficient test of grace, there is another particular to be noticed, namely, the awakening tendency of trials. I have alluded to the extreme danger of the state of quiet and prosperity when the world smiles upon men; when Satan seems to have departed from them; and when their natural propensities to ease are furthered by all surrounding circumstances Jeremiah 48:11).

3. This is another useful tendency of trial--it humbles men. Who is so likely to boast as he who has just put on his armour, and has never yet seen the battle?

4. I think we may now easily see that the results of trial to the believer are joyful. Every branch in the living vine that beareth fruit the heavenly Husbandman “purgeth, that it may bring forth more fruit.”

But it is time, in the third place, to speak more particularly of THE CHRISTIAN’S DUTY UNDER TEMPTATION.

1. And here, I would say, first, he must meet it in faith. And surely there are enough of precious promises whereon we may stay ourselves.

2. I would make another observation; and that is, you must under trial show submission to the Lord’s hand. Persons are very often ready, like Cain, to cry out, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.”

3. The next point that I would press on you is the exercise of patience. This is especially dwelt on by the apostle in my text, when he says, “Let patience have her perfect work; that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Abraham, for instance, was long, very long, kept childless, till he was forced to hope even “against hope.” It is by slow degrees that the proud heart is humbled, and the self-sufficient spirit moulded into childlike submission to the will of God. If the gold be taken from the furnace before it be thoroughly purified and refined, why surely it had better never have been cast into the fire.

4. I make but one more closing observation. How anxious ought we to be to reap the benefit God intends from trial! When we contend with the enemies of our salvation, there can be no such thing as a drawn battle; if victory be not for us, we shall be worsted. And there is no state of more fearful augury than that of the man whom trial, chastisement, temptation, hardens. It is only sanctified trial that is profitable; and in order that trial may be so sanctified, we must earnestly implore the blessing of the Divine Spirit. (J. Ayre, M. A.)

Trials the law of life

Life is not always easy to any, of whatever condition or fortune. And men increase the painfulness of living by undertaking life on a wrong theory, viz., the conception of the possibility of making life free from trouble. They dream of this; they toil for this; they are all disappointed. It is impracticable, man might just as well seek to live without eating or without breathing. All human beings are born to trouble as the birds fly upward. Why, then, should we increase the difficulties of human life by adding to its natural limitations the attempt to reach the unattainable? They live the less difficult lives who early adjust themselves to the natural fact that trouble is to be the normal condition of life. They prepare themselves for it. They fortify themselves by philosophy and religion to endure the inevitable. Then every hour free from trouble is so much cleat” gain. But to him who adopts the other theory--and who does not?--every trouble is so much clear loss. The man in trouble, the fish in water, the bird in air: that is the law; why not accept it? That fact need not discourage us. It does not take from our dignity, nor from our growth, nor from our final happiness. The painter cannot have his picture glowing on the canvas by merely designing it, nor the sculptor transmute his ideal into marble by a wish. The one must take all the trouble of drawing and colouring, and the other that of chiselling and polishing. It is no necessary discouragement to a boy that he must be under tutors, and must go through the trouble and discipline of school-day, even if he be a prince. It is the law. That answers all. It need scarcely be added, that for any success we must conform to the law. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

The afflictions of the saints diverse

1. These afflictions are manifold in respect of the diversity of instruments which God useth in afflicting them upon the saints. For sometimes He useth the devil, sometimes men, sometimes His other creatures as instruments.

2. As in respect of the divers instruments thereunto by God used, “the temptations of men are manifold; so if we look into the nature of temptations they are no less diverse. Some are afflicted by exile and banishment, some by captivity and imprisonment, some by famine and nakedness, some by peril and persecution, some by slander and reproachful contumely, some by rackings and tearings in pieces, some by fire and faggot, some by sores of body and sundry diseases, some suffer in themselves, some are afflicted in their friends, in their wives, in their children, some in their goods, some in their bodies, some in their credits, some by sea, some by land, some at home, some abroad, some by open enemies, some by counterfeit friends, some by cruel oppression, some by manifest injuries, some by force, some by fraud.

3. Finally, the ends wherefore they are afflicted are diverse; therefore in flint respect also they may not amiss be counted diverse. Sometimes we are afflicted to the end we should be humbled, tried, sometimes that in the nature of God’s blessings we may better be instructed; sometimes we are afflicted that God may be glorified, sometimes that our sins may be remitted, sometimes that the pride of our hearts may be repressed and sinful desires mortified; sometimes we are afflicted that God’s love towards us may the more lively be expressed, sometimes that thereby the world may be hated of us, sometimes that we may be more zealous in prayer for deliverance, sometimes that we may be made conformable and like the image of the Son of God, together with Him may be partakers of His glory. Finally, to make us forsake all trust in other, and to bring us home to God. As Isaiah teacheth us, at that day shall the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, stay no more upon him that smote him, but shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. (R. Turnbull.)

A deep spring of joy

Their spring of joy did not flow from the mere surface of life. It bubbled up from the deep underlying strata, and still ran on whatever changes vexed the surface. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Joy in tribulation

Mr. John Philpot was shut up with some Protestant companions in the Bishop of London’s coal-cellar, but they were so merry that they were fetched out to be reprimanded for their unseasonable mirth. “The world wonders,” wrote the good man to a friend, “we can be merry under such extreme miseries, but our God is omnipotent, who turns our misery into joy. I have so much joy that, though I be in a place of darkness and mourning, yet I cannot lament, but both day and night am full of joy. I never was so merry before; the Lord’s name be praised for ever. Oh, pray instantly that this joy may never be taken from us, for it passeth all the delights in this world.” (Sunday at Home.)

Joy commendable in trouble

Every bird can sing in a clear heaven in temperate spring; that one is most commended that sings many notes in the midst of a shower or in the dead of winter. (Bp. Hall.)

Temptations need not discourage

In all temptations be not discouraged. These surges may be, not to break thee, but to heave thee off thyself on the Rock Christ. (T. Wilcocks.)

Temptation a benefaction

Temptation is a necessity, and not only a necessity, but a benefaction. If you were to construct a man, you would have to put into him a certain percentage of temptation that he might become fully developed. (Prof. Hy. Drummond.)

The joyous end of trial

The quartz gold might bitterly complain when the hammer comes down on it--“Ah! I shall never be good for anything again. I am crushed to atoms.” And when the rushing water came along it might cry out, “Here I am drowned. I am lost. I shall never come to the light any more.” And when put into the furnace it might say, “Now I am for ever undone.” But by and by, see that ring that clases the brow of the king. It is that same gold that understood not, through much tribulation it must enter upon honour. It is even thus with us. We need not complain if the terrible temptation comes along. It will give us an opportunity of using the grace which God has bestowed; it will show what metal we are of; it will bring out our character if we have any; and we may thus “count it all joy.” (W. G. Pascoe.)

Trial a boon

Every possible trial to the child of God is a masterpiece of strategy of the Captain of his salvation for his good. (A. R. Fausset, M. A.)

Advantage of adversity

Tough trees grow in exposed situations, where the mightiest winds of heaven sweep and whirl from year to year. An experienced shipbuilder would not think of using for the mainmast of a ship a tree that had grown in a hot-house, where the whirlwind had never come. (R. V. Lawrence.)

Shaped by sorrow

The best steel is subjected to the alternatives of extreme heat and extreme cold. Were you ever in a cutlery? If you were, you noticed that the knife-blades were heated, and beaten, and then heated again, and plunged into the coldest water, in order to give them the right shape and temper. And perhaps you also noticed that there was a large heap of rejected blades--rejected because they would not bear the tempering process. They cracked and warped; when put upon the grindstone, little flaws appeared in some that, up to that point, had seemed fair and perfect. Hence they were thrown aside as unfit for market. So souls, in order to ensure the right temper, are heated in the furnace of affliction, plunged into the cold waters of tribulation, and ground between the upper and nether stones of adversity and disaster. Some come out of the trial pure, elastic, and bright, ready for the highest service; others come out brittle, with ill-temper, full of flaws and spots of rust, and are thrown into the rubbish-room of the Church as unfit for any but the lowest uses. Now if you would be of any account among the forces that are working out the salvation of this world, be still in the hands of God until He tempers you. Listen to that knife-blade in the hands of the cutler. “Stop, now! I have been in the fire often enough. Would you burn the life out of me?” But in it goes again into the glowing furnace, and is heated to a white heat. “Stop hammering me! I have been pounded enough now.” But down comes the sledge. “Keep me out of this cold water. One moment in the fiery furnace and the next in ice-cold water. It is enough to kill one! “But in it goes. “Keep me off the grindstone. You’ll chafe the life out of me.” But it is made to kiss the stone until the cutler is satisfied. But now see! When all the heating and cooling and pounding and grinding is done you may bend it double, and yet it springs back straight as an arrow; it is as bright as polished silver, hard as a diamond, and will cut like a Damascus blade. It has been shaped, tempered, and polished, and is worth something. (R. V. Lawrence.)

Mercies travel along dark way.

Right back of Hackensack is a long railroad cut. In the dim twilight, when evening is far advanced, the cut is dark and gloomy. I was thinking of that one evening and I stopped to look into the entrance. I said to myself, “No one would ever imagine, just to glance in there without knowledge, that anything good could come by a way so forbidding.” While I was still talking thus to myself, I felt the ground tremble, I saw the darkness light up with a sudden crimson ray, I heard a roar of ever-increasing loudness, and the black entrance of the cut was filled with a shower of sparks and a mixed plume of black and white; a ball of round fire blinded my eyes, a sound of thunder startled my ears, the earth shook up and down as though set upon springs, and then it was gone--the train had rushed by--nothing to be seen in the gloom but the littlered lamp on the rear of the cars that rapidly diminished its lustre, blinked once or twice, and went out. Long after it was out of sight I heard the sound of the distant gong; and I realised that this unsightly cut had let some human happiness safely through. Some of our choicest mercies come in by way of some frowning trouble. The station where we receive them is a little further on, to be sure; but it is well to remember that if the dark way had not been traversed nothing so rich and good would have arrived. (J. W. Dally.)

Manifold temptations needed

The more varied are the moral difficulties of life, the more complete is the discipline. The strain must come upon one muscle after another, if there is to be a perfect development of moral vigour--if, as James puts it, we are to be “lacking in nothing.” The strength of every separate element of Christian righteousness must be tried, and tried by various tests. The courage which is unmoved by one form of danger maybe daunted by another. The patience which submits without a murmur to familiar suffering may be changed by a new sorrow into angry resentment. The Christian charity which has kept its sweetness through many cruel persecutions may at last be suddenly embittered by some fresh outrage. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

Life a perpetual discipline

Life, from first to last, is a perpetual “trial,” and the “trial” is perpetually varied. In the school of God there are no vacations. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

The record of a dark day

We go to rest sometimes with an impression of guilt on our minds, because all day long we have been under trial, so that we feel as if evil had been with us continually. At other times night finds us calm and serene. All has gone smoothly, and we are pleased with ourselves and our neighbours. And yet there may be a better record for the dark day than for the bright one, in God’s book of remembrance. For temptation is not sin, nor its absence goodness.

Temptation may be a sign of grace

A brother in a religious meeting was suffering from severe temptation, and after a full account of his experience was advised to take courage, “For,” said Father Taylor, “the devil was never known to chase a bag of chaff! You may be sure that there is the pure wheat in your heart, or he would not be after you so hard.”

Joy amidst sorrow

Joy lives in the midst of the sorrow; the sorrow springs from the same root as the gladness. The two do not clash against each other, or reduce the emotion to a neutral indifference, but they blend into one another; just as, in the Arctic regions, deep down beneath the cold snow, with its white desolation and its barren death, you shall find the budding of the early spring flowers and the fresh green grass; just as some kinds of fire burn below the water; just as, in the midst of the barren and undrinkable sea, there may be welling up some little fountain of fresh water that comes from a deeper depth than the great ocean around it, and pours its sweet streams along the surface of the salt waste. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Joy in trial

When Richard Williams, of the Patagonian Mission, with his few companions, was stranded on the beach by a high tide, and at the beginning of the terrible privations which terminated his life, he wrote in his diary: “I bless and praise God that this day has been, I think, the happiest of my life. The fire of Divine love has been burning on the mean altar of my breast, and the torch light of faith has been in full trim, so that I have only had to wave it to the right hand or left, in order to discern spiritual things in heavenly places.” Later, when severe illness was added to circumstantial distress, he could say, “Not a moment sits wearily upon me. Sweet is the presence of Jesus; and oh, I am happy in His love.” Again, though held fast by fatal disease, he wrote: “Ah, I am happy day and night, hour by hour. Asleep or awake, I am happy beyond the poor compass of language to tell. My joys are with Him whose delights have always been with the sons of men; and my heart and spirit are in heaven with the blessed.”

The trying of your faith worketh patience--

Trial of faith works patience

1. The chief grace which is tried in persecution is faith. Partly because it is the radical grace in the life of a Christian (Hebrews 2:4); we work by love, but live by faith; partly because this is the grace most exercised, sometimes in keeping the soul from using ill means and unlawful courses Isaiah 28:16); sometimes in bringing the soul to live under gospel-comforts in the absence or want of worldly, and to make a Christian fetch water out of the rock when there is none in the fountain.

Use 1. You that have faith, or pretend to have it, must look for trials. Graces are not crowned till they are exercised; never any yet went to heaven without conflicts.

Use 2. You that are under trials, look to your faith (Luke 22:32).

(1) Hold fast your assurance in the midst of the saddest trials.

(2) Keep your hopes fresh and lively.

2. Many trials cause patience, that is, by the blessing of God upon them. Habits are strengthened by frequent acts; the more you act grace, the stronger; and often trial puts us upon frequent exercise (Hebrews 12:11).

(1) It showeth how careful you should be to exercise yourselves under every cross; by that means you come to get habits of grace and patience: neglect causeth decay, and God withdraweth His hand from such as are idle: in spirituals, as well as temporals, “diligence maketh rich” Proverbs 10:4).

(2) It showeth that if we murmur or miscarry in any providence, the fault is in our own hearts, not in our condition.

3. It is an excellent exchange to part with outward comforts for inward graces. Fiery trials are nothing, if yon gain patience; sickness, with patience, is better than health; loss, with patience, is better than gain.

4. Patience is a grace of excellent use and value. We cannot be Christians without it; we cannot be men without it: not Christians, for it is not only the ornament, but the conservatory of other graces. How else should we persist in well-doing when we meet with grievous crosses? You see we cannot be Christians without it; so, also, not men. Christ saith, “In patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:19). A man is a man, and doth enjoy himself and his life by patience: otherwise we shall but create needless troubles and disquiets to ourselves, and so be, as it were, dispessessed of our own lives and souls--that is, lose the comfort and the quiet of them. (T. Manton.)

Incentives to patience

The sufferer should look at THE HAND which sends the affliction. Patience springs out of faith.

The sufferer should look at THE PRESENT BENEFIT of affliction, which to a believer is unspeakably great.

The sufferer should look to THE END of his afflictions. God may perhaps see good not to bless us in this life, as He did His servant Job; but, oh, what glory will it be to hear it said of us at the last day, “These are they which came out of great tribulation,” &c. (W. Jowett, M. A.)

The advantage of temptation

An iron railway-bridge is no stronger after its strength has been tried by running a dozen heavy trains over it than it was before. A gunbarrel is no stronger when it comes from the proof-house, and has had its strength tried by being fired with four or five times its proper charge, than it was before. But according to James, the “trials” which test our faith strengthen it; the “temptations” which assault our integrity confirm it. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

Patience and fortitude

People are always talking of perseverance and courage and fortitude, but patience is the finest and worthiest part of fortitude and the rarest too. (John Ruskin.)

Christian pefection

A perfect machine fulfils the object for which it is made, and a perfect Christian is one of such a character that he fulfils the object for which he has been made a Christian. “Entire, lacking in nothing,” conveys the idea of being properly adjusted and arranged so that our avenues of temptation are properly guarded. A builder never thinks of putting a window in the floor or a door in the ceiling, and God would have our moral nature so adjusted that we may have everything in its place, and consequently “Entire, lacking in nothing.” (F. Montague Miller.)

Patience Godlike

It would be far easier, I apprehend, for nine men out of ten to join a storming party than to lie on a rack or to hang on a cross without repining. Yes, patience is a strength; and patience is not merely a strength, it is wisdom in exercising it. We, the creatures of a day, make one of the nearest approaches that is posssible for us to the life of God. Of God, St. Augustine has finely said, “Patiens quia aeternus” “Because He lives for ever, He can afford to wait.” (Canon Liddon.)

Patience waiting upon providence

Let your hope be patient, without tediousness of spirit, or hastiness of prefixing time. Make no limits or prescriptions to God, but let your prayers and endeavours go on still with a constant attendance on the periods of God’s providence. The men of Bethulia resolved to wait upon God but five days longer; but deliverance stayed seven days, and yet came at last. (Jeremy Taylor, D. D.)

The sphere of patience

It is said that the immortal astronomer, whose genius discovered the laws which govern the movement of the planets, saw his great labours despised by his contemporaries. Reduced to extreme misery, he was on his death-bed, when a friend asked him if he did not suffer intensely in dying thus without seeing his discoveries appreciated. “My friend,” replied Kepler, “God waited five thousand years for one of His creatures to discover the admirable laws which He has given to the stars, and cannot I wait, also, until justice is done me?” Take heed to these words you who are doing God’s work. Labour, if necessary, without result; speak, although not listened to; love, without being understood; cast your bread upon the waters; and to subdue the world to the truth, walk by faith and not by sight. (E. Bersier, D. D.)

Patience makes the burden lighter

Two little German girls, Brigitte and Wallburg, were on their way to the town, and each carried a heavy basket of fruit on her head. Brigitte murmured and sighed constantly; Wallbarg only laughed and joked. Brigitte said, “What makes you laugh so? Your basket is quite as heavy as mine, and you are no stronger than I am.” Wallburg said, “I have a precious little herb on my load, which makes me hardly feel it at all. Put some of it on your load as well.” “Oh,” cried Brigitte, “it must indeed be a precious little herb! I should like to lighten my load with it; so tell me at once what it is called.” Wallburg replied, “The precious little herb that makes all burdens.light is called patience.”

Verse 4

James 1:4

Let patience have her perfect work

The perfect work of patience

We can all attain to a certain amount of proficiency at most things we attempt; but there are few who have patience to go on to perfection.

Even in reference to things that we like, such as amusements, we are impatient. What is wanted to make even a good cricketer is, that patience should have its perfect work. “The gift of continuance”--that is what so many of us want. As a rule, the time required for the production of an effect measures the value of that effect. The things that can be developed quickly are of less value than those which require longer time. You can weed a garden or build a house in a much shorter time than you can educate a mind or build up a soul. The training of our reasoning faculties requires a longer time than the training of our hands. And moral qualities, being higher than intellectual, make an even greater demand upon the patience of their cultivator. Love, joy, peace, faith, gentleness, goodness, truth-fulness--with what perseverance in the diligent use of God’s grace are these acquired! And this patience which we ought to have with ourselves, ought surely to be extended towards others--“Be patient towards all men.” It need not surprise us that we cannot make others what we would like them to be, since we cannot make ourselves as we wish to be. Parents are often unreasonably impatient about the intellectual and moral development of their children. Those who labour for the elevation of the masses must have that faith and patience which work where results cannot be seen. If we may say so without irreverence, we would say that we must let patience have its perfect work in our thoughts about the government of God. In our impatience we wonder why He should be so tolerant of the thorns upon which we have to tread, instead of taking them away and strewing our path with rose-leaves. God sees that these thorns are better for us than rose-leaves. The way most persons accept misfortune is the greatest misfortune of all; while nothing is a misfortune if patience be allowed to have its perfect work. In the top room of one of the houses of a miserable court, which I know well, there lives an old woman crippled and deformed in every joint by chronic rheumatism. Listen! She speaks of her gratitude. For what? Because with the assistance of a knitting-needle and her thumb, the only joint that will move, she can turn over the leaves of her Bible. (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)

Patience under afflictions

If we consider the condition of those Jews to whom the apostle directs this Epistle, we shall find that as they were a dispersed, so they were as afflicted and persecuted people. To these dispersed and distressed Christians, the apostle directs this his Epistle, and exhorts them, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2)--that is, when ye fall into divers tribulations; for by temptations here he means not the inward assaults of the devil, but the outward assaults of his instruments. A strange command, one would think, to bid them rejoice at such a time and in such circumstances as these 1 Now, in this are included two things, which should mightily futher their joy.

1. That all their sufferings are for the trial of their faith. God by these tries whether your faith be well-grounded and saving, or whether it be only temporary and flitting: tie tries whether it be weak or strong; whether it be able to support itself upon a promise, or wants the crutches of sense and visible enjoyments to bear it up; whether it be a faith that is wrought in you only by conviction, or a faith that hath wrought in you a thorough conversion; whether it be a faith wrought in you only by evidence of the truth, or a faith that is accompanied with a sincere love of the truth. And, therefore, rejoice in your afflictions: for these will help you to determine this important question. Certainly that Christian hath great reason to suspect himself who cannot rejoice that he is going to heaven, though God sends a fiery chariot to fetch him.

2. This trial of their faith worketh patience. The more a Christian bears, the more he is enabled to bear; his nerves and his sinews knit and grow strong under his burdens. And therefore also “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” If thy sorrows add any degree of fortitude to thy patience, thou hast far more reason to rejoice than to repine; for nothing in this present life is to be accounted good or evil, but only as it respects the advantage or disadvantage which our graces receive by it. “Let patience have her perfect work,” and then you shall have cause to rejoice. Let her go on to finish what is begun; and then shall ye “be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” It is not enough that ye can bear some afflictions, and that only for some time; but if you will be perfect, as you must do the whole will of God, and that with constancy unto the end, so you must suffer the whole will of God, and put no earlier period to your patience than to your obedience. Patience ought not to prescribe, either to the kind, measure, or degree of our sufferings.

From the words we may observe these two prepositions--

1. That a Christian’s patience ought to accomplish all the work that is proper for it while he lies under afflictions: “Let patience have her perfect work.”

2. That the perfection of patience is the perfection of a Christian: “That ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” And herein I shall prosecute this method.

WHAT IS THIS PATIENCE which a Christian ought to exercise and accomplish when he is under sufferings? It is a grace of God’s Spirit wrought in the heart of a true Christian, whereby he is sweetly inclined quietly and willingly to submit to whatsoever the Lord shall think fit to lay upon him; calming all the passions which are apt to rise up in him against God’s dispensations, with the acknowledgment of His infinite sovereignty, wisdom, justice, and mercy, in those afflictions which He is pleased to bring upon him. Negatively.

1. Patience is not a stoical apathy, or a senseless stupidity, under the hand of God. It is no narcotic virtue, to stupify us and take away the sense and feeling of afflictions. If it had any such opiate quality in it, it were not commendable; for that is no suffering which is not felt. And those who are stupified under the hand of God, and who take no notice of His judgments, are no more to be accounted patient than a block is when it is hewn and cut. Nay, patience is so far from taking away the sense of sufferings, that it rather quickens it. There is no man that more feels an affliction than a Christian doth; for he refers his chastisements to his deserts.

2. Patience doth not stifle all modest complaints and moderate sorrow. A patient Christian may well be allowed this vent for his grief to work out at. Grace never destroys, but only regulates and corrects nature. It will permit thee to shed tears, so long as they run clear, and the course of them doth not stir up the mud of thy sinful passions and violent affections. And, again, a patient Christian may make use of all the doleful signs of sorrow which God hath allowed and nature exacts, and yet his spirit not be moved beyond its due temper and consistency; like a tree whose boughs are agitated by every gust and storm of wind, when yet the root remains unmoved in the earth.

3. Patience doth not oblige us to continue under afflictions when we may lawfully and warrantably release ourselves from them. It doth not require us to solicit troubles. It is a sign of a vitiated palate if our physic taste not somewhat unpleasing to us; and of an obstinate mind if we be not careful to shun the discipline of the rod. If God bring sore, and perhaps mortal, diseases upon thee, it is not patience, but presumption, to refuse the means which are proper for thy recovery, under pretence that thou art willing to bear whatsoever it pleaseth God to lay upon thee.

4. Much less doth patience oblige us to invite sufferings. It is fortitude enough if we manfully stand their shock when they assault us; but it is temerity to provoke and challenge them. Neither is it patience to bear those invented severities which blind devotionalists inflict upon themselves: they may soon enough lash themselves into pain, but never into patience; this is a virtue which thongs and whipcord can never teach them. And thus I have showed you what patience is not.

Positively. In patience there must be--

1. A quiet, willing submission to the hand of God.

2. A quieting of our unruly passions. A calming of all those impetuous storms which are apt to arise in a man’s heart when he is under any heavy sufferings.

3. All this must be done upon right grounds. Indeed, there is a natural patience--a patience that may be found in natural men devoid of true grace--which proceeds only upon natural and moral principles: as, that it is folly to strive against fate, and that it is equally folly to torment ourselves about what we can help. And thus we see what this grace of patience is.


1. The first work of patience is the quieting and composing the spirit of the afflicted. He is calm within, though his outward condition be full of storms Acts 20:24).

2. Another work of patience is to put a stop to all immoderate complaints.

3. Another work of patience under sufferings is self-resignation to the sovereign will and disposal of Almighty God. And there be two notable ingredients which go to the composition of it--self-denial and submission.

(1) Patience works the soul to a self-denying frame and temper. Fretfulness and impatience do always proceed from self-love. A cross lies very heavy upon a selfish man. And he that makes this world his all, must needs look upon himself as utterly ruined if God take from him that wherein he placeth his highest felicity; and therefore no wonder if he break out into passionate exclamations. But a truly patient soul puts a lower estimate upon these things; he values them, indeed, as comforts, but not as his chief good, otherwise he would have no patience in sustaining the loss of them. Yet still be looks not upon himself as undone; still he hath his God and his

Christ, and his grace left. God doth but deny him that wherein he hath learned to deny himself.

(2) As patience works the soul to a self-denying, so it does likewise to a submissive frame and temper. When it hath brought a man to renounce his own will, it then resolves him into the will of God. The will of His precept He hath made known unto us by His Word, and to that we ought to submit our wills by a cheerful performance of what He hath commanded. The will of His purpose He makes known unto us by His providence; and to that we ought to submit, by a quiet bearing of whatsoever He shall see good to inflict. Christ is willing not to have His own will, and so every patient Christian brings his will to this submission; that it is his will, that not his, but God’s will should be fulfilled.

4. Another work of patience is a holy endearing of our afflictions to us; when it bring us to account them precious, as choice mercies bestowed upon us. Patience will make the soul thankful for corrections, esteeming it a token of God’s special regard and condescension that He will vouchsafe to afflict us. We are all prone to think that God never minds us, but when He is continually heaping new mercies upon us; and if any calamity befall us, we presently fear that. God hath forgotten us; but patience teacheth a Christian to believe that in every affliction God doth most particularly regard our concerns; that He is as mindful of us when He chastises as when He favours us. And therefore we should account afflictions as dear a pledge of God’s love as prosperity. And as weeds grow fastest in a fat and rank soil, so our corruptions thrive and are ready to overrun our souls when our outward condition is most prosperous; and therefore God’s love and care of us constrain Him sometimes to use severe discipline.

5. Another work of patience is the reconciling of a man to the instruments of his sufferings, to make him willing to forgive them himself, and to pray to God for their pardon, who is far more offended by them than we can be.

6. Another work of patience is to obstruct all dishonourable or unlawful ways of deliverance from those sufferings under which we lie. Patience will not suffer a man to accept of deliverance if he cannot free the honour of God and the purity of his own conscience from stain, as well as his outward man from trouble.


1. Patience hath, then, its perfect work when it is proportionable to the sufferings and affliction, under which we lie, and that both in duration and fortitude. And therefore--

(1) If thy afflictions and sorrows be of long continuance, thy patience, that it may be perfect, must be prolonged. If thy patience wear off one day before thy trouble cloth, it hath not its perfect work. Now, then, O Christian 1 look upon thyself as a traveller, and make account that whatsoever burden God is pleased to lay upon thee, He may perhaps not take it off till thou comest to thy inn, to take up thy lodging in the grave.

(2) Sometimes our sorrows and sufferings are very deep, our burdens very heavy and pressing; and God may give thee a deep draft of the bitter cup, and squeeze into it the very quintessence of wormwood. Now, in this case, that thy patience may be perfect, it must be strong, as well as lasting; it must have sinews in it, to bear weighty burdens (Proverbs 24:10).

2. That our patience may be perfect, it must be proportionable also to the need of the sufferer. For then hath patience its perfect work, when a man bears whatsoever is necessary for him. Now, both the cure and thy patience are then perfect when, of a proud and high-minded person, He hath brought thee to an humble and meek spirit; when, of a worldly and self-seeking person, He hath made thee a public-spirited and self-denying Christian; when, of a drowsy and secure, He hath made thee a vigilant, zealous, and active Christian.

3. That thy patience may be per-feet, it must be a joyful patience.

That which remains is to ENFORCE upon you this exhortation of the apostle.

1. For the motives to patience, they are many and powerful. And such, indeed, they had need be, to persuade our fretful natures to the exercise of so hard a grace. Yet grace can work those wonders which nature cannot. And there be several considerations that will tend mightily to hush all the disturbances of our spirits, under all our sorrows and sufferings.

(1) That there is nothing more necessary for a Christian, in the whole conduct of his life, than the work and exercise of patience (Hebrews 10:36). And this especial necessity of patience will appear, if we consider that our whole life is but a scene of sorrows and troubles. Consider that patience is necessary to alleviate and lighten the afflictions we suffer. The same burden shall not, by this means, have the same weight in it. There is a certain skill in taking up our load upon us to make it sit easy; whereas others, that take it up untowardly, find it most cumbersome. Let the very same affliction befall two persons--the one a patient, meek, and self-resigning soul; the other a proud, fretful wretch, that repines every disappointment--and with how much more ease shall the one bear it than the other! The burden is the very same; but only the one is sound and whole, and it doth not wring nor pinch him; but the other’s impatience hath galled him, and every burden is more intolerable to him, because it lies upon a raw and sore spirit. It is not so much the wearing as the striving with our yoke that galls us; and as it is with beasts caught in a snare, so is it with impatient men--the more they struggle, the faster they draw the knot, and make their sufferings more uneasy and their escape more impossible.

(2) Another motive to patience may be to consider who is the Author and Inflicter of all the sufferings which thou undergoest. Consider that God is the absolute and uncontrollable Sovereign of all the world. Consider that God is not only our Sovereign, but He is our Proprietor. Consider the relation wherein God stands unto thee. Consider, again, that it is an infinitely wise God that afflicts thee; and, therefore, thou mayest well acquiesce in His providences. All thy sorrows are chosen out for thee by that God who doth inflict them. He knows the just proportion of what thou art to undergo. He is the Wise Physician, that knows what ingredients, and what quantities of each, are fittest for thee to take. He knows and considers the events and the consequences of things, which are hid in a profound obscurity from us short-sighted creatures. Possibly He intends the greatest mercy when Be brings the sorest trials upon thee. Consider God is a faithful God. To this let me add one consideration more concerning God; and that is, that He is the God of Patience (Romans 15:5). And that, not only as He is the God that requires patience from us; not only as He is the God that gives patience to us; not only as He is the God that doth own and crown patience in us; but as He is the God that doth Himself exercise infinite patience towards us. He bears more from us than we can possibly bear from Him.

(3) Consider what thou hast deserved. And this will be a most unanswerable argument for patience under what thou feelest.

(4) A fourth motive to patience may be the consideration of the great benefits and advantages that accrue to us by afflictions (Hebrews 12:11). As the ploughing up of a field seems utterly to spoil the beauty of it, when its smoothness and verdure are turned into rough and unsightly furrows, and all its herbs and flowers buried under deformed clods of earth; but yet, afterwards, in the days of harvest, when the fields laugh and sing for joy, when the furrows stand thick with corn and look like a boundless sea and inundation of plenty, they yield an incomparable delight to the eyes of the beholders and welcome sheaves into the bosom of the reapers; so when God ploughs up any of His children, it may seem a strange method of His husbandry thus to deform the flourishing of their present condition; but yet, afterwards, when the seed which He casts into these furrows is sprung up, both the wisdom and goodness of Divine Providence will be made apparent in thus converting a barren prosperity into a more fruitful adversity. Improvements and advantages that we may make of our afflictions. As they are the exercises of our graces, so they keep them lively and active. Exercise, you know, though it weary the body for the present, yet conduceth to its health and soundness. Afflictions are the soul’s exercise, by which God keeps our graces in breath, which else would languish and he choked up. Indeed, experience and custom facilitate all things, and make that very easy which before we accounted difficult. All birds when they are first put into their cage fly wildly up and down, and beat themselves against their little prison, but within two or three days sit quietly upon their perch and sing their usual notes. So it fares with us. When God first brings us into straits, we wildly flatter up and down, and beat and tire ourselves with striving to get free; but at length custom and experience will make our narrow confinement spacious enough for us; and though our feet should be in the stocks, yet shall we, with the apostles, be able even there to sing praises to our God. Another advantage of afflictions is this: that they are physic to the soul, to expel and purge out its corruptions. A patient bearing of afflictions is a clear evidence of our adoption. Indeed, our sufferings only prove us to be the sons of Adam, on whom the curse is entailed through his primitive transgression; but our patience is a strong proof that we are the sons of God. All metals may be melted in the furnace; but it is the property of gold only to endure the fire, and lose nothing of its weight or worth. Consider that a patient suffering of affliction will make rich additions to the weight and splendour of thy crown of glory.

(5) Another motive may be this: that a patient bearing of affliction is a very great honour, both to ourselves and to God. To ourselves (consult 1 Peter 4:14; 1 Peter 1:7). It brings in a great revenue of glory unto God.

(6) Consider that patience under afflictions is the best way to be freed from afflictions.

(a) If they be immediately from men, patience is of such a sweet, winning nature, that, unless they have quite divested humanity, they cannot long persevere in a causeless wronging of those who quietly bear and pass by their former injuries. Patience withdraws fuel from wrath: it finds no new occasion to stir up strife by opposition. If our sufferings be immediately from God, a patient bearing of them will the sooner put a period to them; because usually one great end why God doth afflict us is to teach us patience.

(7) Consider that all thy sufferings in this life are in themselves tolerable. They are but the infirmities of a man, which the spirit of a man may bear; for they are only partial. All thy afflictions and sufferings have a great mixture of mercy in them.

(8) Consider how many thousands in the world are in a far worse condition than yourselves, and would account themselves happy were they in your circumstances.

(9) As another motive to patience, consider of how short duration and continuance all the troubles and afflictions of this life are. Though your way be thorny and miry, yet it is but short. Let thy afflictions be as grievous as thy passion can describe them, yet doth God afford thee no lucid intervals? Hast thou no intermission from thy sorrows? This is mercy, and this time of thy refreshment ought not to be reckoned into the suffering, as commonly it is. Indeed, men have got an art of making their sorrows longer than they are. Ask one who labours under a chronic distemper how long he hath been troubled with it; straight he will tell you for so many months or for so many years, when yet, perhaps, the greater part of that time he enjoyed ease and freedom between the returning periods of his disease. If thou hast been long under afflictions, yet perhaps they have been varied. Even this is mercy, that He will not strike long upon one place, nor scourge thee where thou art sore already.

(10) The tenth, and last, motive to patience, which ought to be very effectual with all true Christians, shall be taken from the example of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Consider that His sufferings were infinitely greater than any that we can possibly undergo. Consider that all His unknown sufferings were not for His own, but for our offences.

2. The next thing in order is to show those distempers of spirit which are great hindrances of patience, and give a very great advantage to every cross to ruffle and discompose it. And they are such as these--

(1) An effeminate softness and delicacy of spirit, when the mind is lax and fluid and hath not its due consistency. Consider the indecency and unbecomingness of impatience. It sits ill upon a man, and renders him contemptible and ridiculous. Consider the vanity and folly of impatience. To what purpose is it that thou torturest yourself? Couldst thou relieve thyself by it, this might be some reasonable pretence. Consider that impatience is not only unseemly and foolish, but it is unchristian too. There is nothing more directly contrary to the true spirit and genius of Christianity.

(2) Another great hindrance of patience is a fond love and admiration of these creature enjoyments.

(3) Another great hindrance to patience is pride and self-love.

(4) Reflecting too much upon the instruments of our sufferings is oftentimes a mighty hindrance to the composure and patience of our spirits. And there are these considerations, that make us impatient under sufferings. The meanness and contemptible vileness of the instrument. It heightens impatience when we reflect upon the nearness of those who are the occasions and instruments of our sufferings. It many times heightens impatience to reflect upon the base ingratitude and foul disingenuity of those from whom we suffer.

(5) Reflecting upon a former more prosperous condition is oftentimes a great provocation unto impatience under our present sufferings. (Bp. E. Hopkins.)

The fruits of patience

The word “temptations” here includes bodily temptations to evil, but not alone these; all forms of trial of every kind as well. Now, what is the attitude of men, even the best, when the clouds gather about them, when one desire after another is balked, and when one fear after another is fulfilled? Men settle down into gloom. They are very apt to fall into complaints and dolorous lamentations. But the Apostle James says to them, “Count it all joy” when adversity and various trials of the spirit come on you. Where we come into life with comparatively untrained forces, in ignorance of the old-established laws, with social liabilities and desires that seek to be fulfilled, we require a long period of time in which to develop; and when men’s desires are unfulfilled and are thwarted, that condition of things makes a man more manly. It drives him from his lower up into his higher nature. For see, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this,” etc. Is that, then, the result of patience? Is that homely quality so wonderful as to be praised in that way, that all your trials work faith, and faith works patience, and patience makes the perfect man? Is patience the sign of perfection in a man? It is that supreme quality by which a man reins in his forces, places himself willingly where God, by His providence, allots him, and is superior to his circumstances; where he has that consideration for himself, as a child of God and an heir of immortality, that no condition upon earth can daunt him. A king in disguise, wandering incognito through different lands, brought oftentimes to great straits, obliged to company with peasants, to gnaw their black bread, suffer hunger and thirst, oftentimes pushed hither and thither. But he lives within himself, and says, “How absurd for me, who am a king, who have revenues in abundance, to be put in these conditions. Here I am treated as any peasant; I am shoved here and there, and nobody takes any account of me. In a few weeks or days, at most, I shall recover myself, and sit again in high places.” So a man in this life, knowing himself to be God’s son, the heir of eternal glory, knocked about by various circumstances here and there and everywhere, has a legitimate pride in his birthright. It is just exactly under such circumstances that pride is legitimate. It lifts one up into a consciousness of his superiority to everything when he is pushed this way, that way, or the other by conflicting troubles and by trial. The conception of the apostle is that the difficulties and temptations of every kind in this mortal life really drive us up into the higher elements of our nature, practise us in them, make us more sanctified men, veterans, as distinguished from militia untried in the field, old men of wisdom and experience as compared with young men just coming into the trial of life. Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, because it is going to make men of you, going to make you hardy, going to thrust you up upon higher considerations, that are more becoming to you than the mere gain of ease and comfort and desires fulfilled. We see it to be, then, one of the most important qualities, as it works for manhood, to have this conception of ourselves as superior, by the grace of God, to all the accidents and conditions of this mortal life. Are griefs oppressive? By the grace of God I am able to bear grief, saith the Christian hero. Does one suffer lack? I am able to do without abundance. Am I despised and thrust aside? I am able to be despised and rejected. Now look at this matter more largely. Patience is the indispensable condition of mankind, unless they are at the seminal point. A savage and lazy Oriental, in a climate that takes away all courage and enterprise, does not have much patience. He does not want anything. He sits still, without desire, without enterprise, without out-reaching, without grasp, except in momentary fury. Just in proportion to the eminence of a man’s sphere and the genius of a man’s endowments, the quality of patience is necessary. Necessary, in the first place, because it is not possible for a man to have at once all he wants, or to regulate his wants and nature so that his supplies shall come in their order and in their gradation just as he needs them. Let us consider a few of the conditions in which men are placed where patience is necessary.

1. In the sphere of personal life, patience is a virtue. The ambitions of youth, the far-reaching before we are prepared for manhood, need it.

2. Now, in the household, and in early life generally, there are a thousand things that call for simple patience. The household is a little kingdom. It is a little sphere of light, held together by love, the best emblem and commentary upon Divine government there is. And yet how much there is in the household that frets! In the household there are the seeds of disturbance and confusion. But--patience, patience! You have need of patience in all the various experiences of the household, the collisions that come from differing natures seeking to fit themselves together; developments of all those practical qualities that enable men to live together, not only in patience, but in harmony, making the unity of the family produce every day, as it were, harmonious music. All these things require that men should have faith, and faith is the father of patience--that is to say, that prescience which enables a man to look forward to see that these things must be, and to wait for them, expecting them.

3. So in all the conflicts of business, the misunderstandings of men, the untrustworthiness of men, the rivalries of men, promises not fulfilled, disappointments of every kind. Ye have need of patience in all the conflicts of business. Do not give up. What if to-day is yesterday turned bottom side up, to-morrow it will turn the right way again. What if the cloud does lower to-day? The sun will strike through by and by. What if the rain has come? It has come on you that are able to bear it. A man in all these contingencies of life, in the strife for position and influence, and for wealth, whether it be large or moderate, meeting various troubles and succumbing to them, is scarcely to be called a man. But if he rises in spite of his difficulties, that man is made stronger and larger by his troubles in civil, social, or business life. Ye have need of patience, saith the apostle, that after ye have fulfilled the will of God, ye wait to receive the reward.

4. Even in higher degree do men need patience when they are workers in the moral sphere. Human nature works upward very slowly and irregularly. New truths and new views require a long time. A farmer goes out and gets his phosphate, and puts it on the seed over-night, and says, “We will see in the morning what it has done.” He goes out, and says, “Well, it ain’t done a bit of good.” No, not in a night. Ministers sow sermons on congregations, and think they will come up in a minute. But they will not come up in a good many minutes. By and by, little by little, by those and other influences, men will rise. There is nothing in this world that is so slow as the building of a man. In the process of building him an immense amount of time is consumed. A man gives out his plan of a house to an architect, and goes to Europe. In six months’ time he comes back, and thinks he is going to move right in. When he arrives at the spot, there is nothing but brick and stone, and mortar and scaffolding, and all sorts of litter, dirt, and confusion. He is amazed at it. But in proportion to the elaborateness and largeness of the dwelling is the time that is required to construct it. So it is with moral ideas in the community, educating the whole people, enabling men to look without prejudice upon truth, and bringing them forward step by step. It is very slow work, and ministers, reformers, teachers of schools, parents, and all those whose desires are set for the furtherance of the welfare of men, have need of patience, great patience. Still one thing more. “Let patience have her perfect work.” Raw patience does not amount to much. Ripe patience means a great deal; not that patience which is momentary and fugitive, but that which is settled down and become chronic. How beautiful it is to see a man or woman who has come to the state of ripe patience--the serene face of the matron, on whom all sweetness and goodness wait, who is living just at the golden sunset of her life, and who has been through trials unnamed--for the great sorrows of this life never come to the surface; broken-hearted almost, yet, by her faith in God, enduring till one and another thing is removed, and her life at last is completed, and she stands in the golden light, waiting. How beautiful is the serenity of victorious age that has not been overthrown, that has gone through the rugged way, and across Jordan into the promised land! How noble, too, is the heroic patience of men willing to give their lives for their kind, without selfish ends, with noble and heroic aspirations, waiting, waiting. (H. W. Beecher.)

Patience and perfection

1. The perfection of our graces is not discovered till we are put upon great trials. As a pilot’s skill is discerned in a storm, so is a Christian’s grace in many troubles.

2. The exercise of grace must not be interrupted till it be full and perfect. Ordinary spirits may be a little raised for a time, but they fall again Galatians 5:7). It is not enough to begin; our proceedings in religion must lie answerable to our beginnings. While you are in the world, go on to a more perfect discovery of patience, and follow them theft “through faith,” and a continued “patience have inherited the promises” Hebrews 6:12).

3. Christians must press on to perfection. “That ye may be perfect and entire, nothing wanting.”

(1) Christians will be aspiring to absolute perfection. They are led on to growth by this desire: they hate sin so perfectly that they cannot be quiet till it be utterly abolished. First, they go to God for justification, then for sanctification, then for glorification. And as they are bent against sin with a keen hatred, so they are carried on with an importunate desire of grace. They that have true grace will not be contented with a little grace; no measures will serve their turn.

(2) Christians must be actually perfect in all points and parts of Christianity. As they will have faith, they will have patience; as patience, love, and zeal.

(3) They aim at the perfection of duration, that, as they would be wanting in no part of duty, so in no part of their lives. Subsequent acts of apostasy made our former crown to wither (2 John 1:8). (T. Manton.)

On patience


1. It is a grace of the Holy Spirit, and is not to be confounded with that constitutional hardiness, or apathy of mind, which renders some men insensible to the most affecting events.

2. It is manifested in a cheerful submission to the trials of life. The good man perceives the mercy there is in God’s frowns, and the kindness there is in His strokes.

3. It is manifested in the steadfast pursuit of religion in spite of all its difficulties.

4. It is manifested in forbearance and kindness to our fellowmen.

5. It is shown in the steadfast expectation of the blessings of grace and glory.


1. This intimates that our patience should rise to the highest improvements of which it is susceptible. We must labour to attain such measures of this grace as to glorify providence in the whole of its dealings with us.

2. It intimates that we should endeavour to persevere in the exercise of this grace to the end, in spite of the increase of our troubles.

THE MOTIVE WE THIS CONDUCT WHICH THE TEXT SUGGESTS. Attention to the state of the primitive Christians will lead us to the true import of the apostle’s language. Their faith in the gospel and their attachment to its Author were strong, they had enabled them to overcome prejudices in favour of the Jewish religion which they had long fondly cherished. They had enabled them to relinquish the esteem of their bigoted countrymen, which had formerly been their solace amidst the indignities of the heathen, and to unite themselves with the followers of the Lord Jesus in spiritual worship and in pure benevolence. Now, as to these principles, they might be ready to imagine that they constituted the whole of the Christian character; but, though essential parts of it, more was still requisite. Patience was a grace which it was necessary they should cultivate most assiduously. It is a principal feature in the character of Christ. In this motive the apostle may be considered as intimating the influence of patience in securing and improving the other graces of religion. It keeps the shield of faith firm on the breast, and the fire of love flaming in the heart. It keeps the hands of prayer from falling down, and the song of praise from becoming cold or careless. Where patience hath its perfect work it hath as powerful an influence on happiness as on goodness. No anxiety can harass, end no despair cloud the heart where it rules. Conclusion: I shall give you a few counsels to aid you in the cultivation of this principle.

1. Be frequent in your prayers to the God of patience, that He may confirm you to the end.

2. Study with care the character of Jesus, and especially His patience.

3. Converse frequently with your companions in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. You should state your sorrows to each other, not to give vent to a querulous temper, but to solicit aid in presenting such considerations as may animate your resolution and confirm your fortitude.

4. Search the Scriptures daily. The Bible is the word of Christ’s patience. There you will see a goodly company who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises, and there the most animating motives are presented to excite you to follow them.

5. Think on the lustre which this will shed on the religion yea profess. This has been one of the boasts of philosophy, that it has made men superior to the evils of life; and nothing will degrade Christianity more, in the estimation of such men, than a querulous temper in its followers.

6. Think on the approbation which Christ will express of the perfect work of patience (Revelation 2:19). (H. Belfrage, D. D.)


I never feel more strongly the divinity and perfectness of the Christian system, than in reading the works of those classic authors whose morality makes the nearest approach to the Christian standard. The chief fault that I find with Seneca is his omission of patience from his list of virtues; and from this omission, unessential as some might deem it, there flow the most fatal consequences. He gives many admirable precepts for contending with the evils of life, and destroying their power by exterminating them. But if they exceed mortal strength, and cannot be overcome, he represents it as beneath a wise or a brave man to bear them, when it is so easy to leap out of existence. The very field of discipline, which the heathen moralist thus precluded for his disciple, is that on which the precepts and example of Jesus are the most full and clear. Courage is an occasional act or effort of the soul; patience, a continuous habit. Courage is the mission of some; patience, the duty of all. Courage courts observation, and sustains itself by every possible outward stimulus; patience is lonely and quiet, its warfare is within. Courage may give its strength to evil, and may nerve the arm of the thief or the manslayer; patience dwells only in the bosom of piety, and always beholds the face of her Father in heaven. I now ask your attention to a few remarks designed to illustrate the necessity and the means of cultivating the virtue of patience, and the mode in which it so reacts upon the whole character as to make the patient disciple “perfect and entire, lacking nothing.” The necessity of this virtue can hardly be overrated. Our Saviour said, with literal truth, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” Who escapes it? No one can feel more fully than I do that God has placed us in a good world, and has put within the reach of us all a large preponderance of happiness over misery. And these visitations of Providence are not momentary, so that they can be met by a sudden and defiant effort; but they are prolonged, spreading out into the future, and the end is not yet, but is beyond our calculation.

1. Among the means of cherishing patience I would first name a deep and enduring sense of the love of God, and of the merciful purpose of all His dispensations. This we all confess in words; but we must feel it. This needed faith in a fatherly Providence parents should teach their children, when they are full of joy; and the young, prosperous, and always happy should grow into it more and more in daily adoration and thanksgiving. There has been, there is, enough in the life of each of us, if we would only ponder upon it, to draw forth the confession, with gratitude too full for utterance, “God has nourished me as a child--in ways and times without number He has revealed Himself as my Father and my Friend.” This spirit will give us patience when the evil days come. We shall know that afflictions are but altered forms of mercy, ordained with kind purpose and for a blessed ministry, that outward trial is sent to heal inward disease. We shall lean in faith upon a Father, whose ways seem dark to us only because we are children and fall short of our Father’s wisdom. Our trust will be confirmed by exercise and deepened by experience, so that every new period of trial will give to patience its more and more perfect work.

2. Again, patience derives nourishment from the hope of heaven, not from the mere belief in immortality, but from the personal appropriation and consciousness of it. We think little of a rough road or a bad inn, if the end of our journey is near and attractive. We cheerfully encounter temporary inconveniences if fully assured that they are to be followed by long and unbroken quietness and prosperity. Did we let our contemplations rest habitually on eternity, all our earthly trials would in like manner seem light and short, and not worthy to be compared with the joy set before us.

3. Patience receives also ample support from the life and example of Jesus. In Him the disciple learns that whom the Lord loves He chastens. Yet we behold Him calm, submissive, trustful. Not a murmur escapes Him, not an unconditional prayer for relief. His patience is tried at every point, both by the mysterious hand of an afflictive Providence, and by the malice and scorn of the wicked. But this life is a school for heaven, and we are accustomed to believe that we learn lessons here to practise there. Is net patience an exception? We can have no occasion for its exercise in heaven; why, then, assign it so prominent a place in the Christian character? This question will be best answered by considering the uses of patience.

(1) Under this head I first remark that there is one work which we must all accomplish, would we enter heaven, namely, the formation of spiritual characters, the establishment of the supremacy of the inward over the outward, of the soul over sense, of things unseen and eternal over things seen and temporal. This, however performed, is an arduous process; but perhaps not more so for those whose discipline is that of protracted suffering, than for the prosperous and happy. But for those who are rich, and full, and strong, if they would reach favoured places in the heavenly kingdom, there must be a course of self-restraint, self-denial, and self-renunciation. And herein lies one essential office of patience, in the spiritual-ising of the character, and how beautifully and effectually it does this many of us can testify, from our having felt nearer heaven in the abode of penury, or by the bed of chronic illness, than in the gayest and brightest scenes that have fallen within our experience.

(2) Then, again, in no form does a Christian example seem more attractive, and win more honour to the Christian name and character, than in patience under severe trial and suffering. Piety, indeed, is in the sight of God the same, under whatever form; but by man it cannot be equally appreciated in all conditions of life. In prosperity and joy, there will always be the sneering and sceptical, who will repeat Satan’s question, “Doth Job serve God for naught?” But touch the disciple in his dearest earthly interests, and if he then holds fast his faith, and if he talks of the goodness of God, and manifestly dwells in inward peace, there is no room left for cavilling. God means that we should all be examples to one another; that, while we save our own souls, we should shine for the salvation of others; and that thus the world should from generation to generation become more and more filled with lights on the heavenward path. This office, as I have said, seems to be performed with superior felicity and power by those whose mission it is to suffer rather than to do.

(3) I remark that patience is not a virtue to which even death sets limits. It belongs to heaven and to eternity. What I you ask, patience in heaven? Will there be suffering there? By no means. But what is patience? It is implicit trust, exercised in the darker scenes and vicissitudes of life. These scenes will brighten into the perfect day, these vicissitudes will be merged in the great change, when the corruptible puts on incorruption; but the faith of which they were the theatre will live for ever, and be for ever needed. There will be mysteries in heaven as well as here: things to be taken on faith before they can be fully known, portions of the vast administration of God, in which, in our ignorance, we must cast ourselves in humble reliance on His wisdom and goodness. I have thus spoken of the necessity, the aids, and the uses of patience. It makes life beautiful. It sheds a calm and heavenly glory upon the bed of death. (A. P. Peabody.)

Patience needed by God’s workers

In the New Testament” patience,” in almost every case, has a reference to what has to be endured or suffered rather than to what has to be accomplished. Nor is this to be wondered at. The first age of Christianity was an age of labour, but it was more conspicuously an age of endurance. Since that age Christianity has become a conquering religion as well as a suffering religion. The spirit of patience takes a wider range now; and instead of meaning endurance under suffering, it takes in all the difficulties which come in the way of well-doing, and embraces all that might come under the word “perseverance.” Let me notice some points in the nature of the Christian life which demand this spirit of patience or perseverance.

THE KINGDOM OF GOD SNARES, WITH ALL THE WORKS OF GOD, THE CHARACTER OF GROWTH and those who are fellow-workers with Him must accept the laws and conditions of His kingdom, and must, perhaps, wait long. I need hardly dwell on this fact of the growth of the kingdom of God. Take any single element of the character of a good man, or of a Church, or of a nation, and you see how impossible it is that it should all at once attain to perfection. Time, experience, are necessary. And perhaps the greater the virtue is, and the greater the work to be done, the slower will be the growth. It is so in the natural world, where the strongest tree, or the most sagacious and vigorous animal, comes to maturity after many years of slow growth. Civilisation is slow of growth; art, learning, high character in races and in individuals, all are of slow growth; but slower still is the development of religion, of high Christian virtue and character, whether in men or nations. What has strengthened the Christian graces of good men, their wisdom, their faith, their charity, their spirit of watchfulness, their faithfulness? Was it not the daily struggle against evil, the daily need of resorting to God for help, the falling back upon great eternal truths in the heart? If a man had all he wanted at the outset, he might, after a long life, be worse off than when he began. Certainly he would be deficient in many good qualities, and his inner character would be less complete. In countries where the inhabitants can live without labour, civilisation makes no advance; they have all they need, and in vain do you ask them to put forth efforts to rise higher in knowledge or in skill. But not less is the training of the soul in what is spiritual the fruit of opposition and hindrance. The hardest thing in the world is to do good, to chase away the prejudices and the errors and the bad habits which have taken root in the world. If a man could accomplish all this as by the magic wand, would he himself be as good a man as if he had been obliged to reach his end by the long laborious process of thinking and revising his thoughts, restraining his spirit, looking in upon himself, and upward to the Source of all purity and wisdom? Christ prepared His followers for all this. By His parables, by His life, by His death, He taught His disciples that opposition, defeat, and apparent destruction were, or might be, parts of the history of His Church, and that the harvest might only be reaped after long ages of waiting. This growth--so slow, so uncertain in outward appearance, so often advancing when it seems to have ceased, this growth of the kingdom of God in the individual--calls for a spirit of patience on the part of those who belong to thekingdom of God.

PATIENCE IN THE WORK OF GOD IS NECESSARY BECAUSE IT IS NO PART OF THE CONDITION OF CHRISTIAN SERVICE TO SEE RESULTS. Results of some sort we ask to see, and results of some sort we do see; but the full sum of our labours it may require more than one generation to see. The man of clear judgment and pure feeling will doubtless, before his career is ended, enjoy the sight of many persons who have caught his spirit and character. But even that reward comes by patience. I do not speak of the individual only, I speak of the Church and of the world.

THE SPIRIT OF PATIENCE IN CHRISTIAN WORK AND DUTY IS THE ONLY SPIRIT WHICH REALLY APPREHENDS THE RIGHT CHARACTER OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH. The spirit of patience is not measured by the reward or the result. The whole essence Of Christianity is a contest with what is evil and wrong. It is presumptuous, and in the highest degree unbelieving, in us to say, “I shall not take part in this tremendous conflict until I know what is to come out of it, and what good is to be done.” The essential impulse of the Christian spirit is to set itself of the side of what is right and pure and true, irrespective of the issue. I know there are amongst us eases where, again and again, there has arisen, as if prompted by stern necessity, the suggestion that some work on behalf of an individual, or a class of individuals, may as well be thrown up. It comes to nothing. Is there any use doing more? What do you mean? The struggle is not a contest for one individual or for many; it represents the whole question of the supremacy of good or evil, the whole question of our faith in God, the whole question of our hope in the destiny of man. But the question may well arise in every heart, “What right have I to ask that all my plans and purposes shall succeed, or that any one of them shall?” Where do we see universal success free from mischance? In what region of nature do we find gain without loss, progress without decay? Everywhere we see a capacity for life and growth cut short and perish. We never, see in other cases what we so rigorously demand in our own. And what are we, it may well be said, what are we that an exception should be made on our behalf, and that we should never encounter disappointment and failure? (A. Watson, D. D.)


Patience is not there to begin with. It is no inborn grace, like love. It comes to us by and by, and tries to find room in our nature, and to stay and bless us, and so make us altogether its own. The first thing we are aware of in any healthy and hearty child is the total absence and destitution of this spirit of patience. No trace of it is to be discovered in the eager, hungry outcries, and the aimless, but headstrong struggles against things as they are. Buff presently Patience comes, and rests on the mother’s lifted finger as she shakes it at the tiny rebel, and puts a tone he had never heard before within the tender trills of her voice, and he looks up with a dim sort of wonder, as if he would say, What is that? Then, in a few years, she looks at him out of the face of the old kitchen clock. It seems impossible that this steady-going machine should be so impassive, and persist in that resistless march; should not be quick to strike the hour he would drag before its time out of the strong heavens, or should not delay a little as he sits in the circle when the day is done, and dreads the exodus, at the stroke of eight, to his chamber. Poor little man! he has got into the old sorrow. It is not the clock, but the sun and stars he would alter, and the eternal ways. Then, as the child passes into the boy, he has still to find this angel of patience. It is then very common for him to transfer his revolt from the sun to the seasons. If he is in the country, he rebels at the slow, steady growth of things; they never begin to come up to his demand. It is with all boys as it was with John Sterling. His father gave him a garden-bed, to till as he would; and he put in potatoes. They did not appear when be thought they should; so he dug them out, and put in something else; and so he kept on digging in and out, all one summer, because the things sprouted and bloomed at once in his hot little heart, like Jonah’s gourd. It was an instance of the whole boy life. Nature can never come up to his notion of what she ought to do until Patience comes to help him. But your big, healthy boy fights it out, hard and long; nothing is just as he wants it.
Christmas comes like a cripple, and school, when the holidays are over, like a deer. It is a shame cherries and apples will not ripen sooner, and figures find their places more tractably, and geographies run as straight as a line. It is easy to see, again, that these habits of the child and boy are only the germs of a larger impatience in the youth and the prime. We soon get our lesson from the angel about the kitchen clock and the courses of the sun, and the limits of our power to make this world turn the other way. We learn to come to time, and set ourselves to its steady dictation in all common things; and patience, so far, has her perfect work. I wonder to see the patience of some children, at last, about what they know they have got to do and be, in their tasks and strivings. But if the boy does learn all he ought to learn about times and seasons, and tasks and treats, and lines and limits, it is very seldom that the lesson holds good as he begins the march to his manhood, or when he gets there. Patience, then, has to teach him deeper things: time still says one thing and his desire another, and he hungers again for what God has forbidden in the very condition of his life. But now it is unspeakably more serious than it was ten years ago, as she comes to him and tries to teach him her great lesson. She has to remember what myriads of young men, strong, and eager, and headstrong as he is, have broken away from her after all. Fortune and position, weight for weight, with what faculty the Maker has given him, is just as sure to come to a man in this country as the crop to the farmer, and the web to the weaver, if he will only let this angel have her perfect work. Travellers in India tell us they have seen a magician make an orange tree spring, and bloom, and bear fruit all in half an hour. That is the way many believe fortune ought to come. They cannot wait for its patient, steady, seasonable growth. Patience comes and whispers, “It wilt never do; the perfect work is only that done by my spirit; the magician can never bring his thirty-minute oranges to market, because they can never nourish anybody as those do that come in the old Divine fashion, by the patient sun and seasons.” He gives no heed to the wise, sweet counsels; takes his own way; and then if he wins, finds that somehow he has lost in the winning; the possession is not half so good as the expectation: but the rule is, that the man who will not let Patience have her perfect work in building up his position and fortune, ends bare of both, and has nothing but a harvest of barren regrets. No man, again, comes to middle age without finding that this is the truth about all the noble sensations that give such a colour and grace to our life, and are such loyal ministrants to its blessing, if we can say “No” to the enemies of our good angel when they come and counsel us to disregard her ways, to let our passions take the bit in their teeth, and go tearing where they will. Twenty years ago last June, when I had been a few weeks in this country, I tasted, for the first time in my life, an exquisite summer luxury; and it seemed so good that I thought I could never get enough of it. I got some more, and then some more, and then I found, for the first time, I think, what it is to have too much of a good thing. The angel is there with his flaming sword, insisting that I shall only eat of it out of Eden. It has been to me ever since a parable of this deep old verity. I disregarded the angel whispering, “You had better take care; if you eat that for a steady diet, through a whole June day, you do it in spite of me; the hunger for some more, which has been growing all your life, is a pledge that the good of this will abide with you as long as you live if you will always let hunger wait on appetite.” I had no idea of doing that. Impatience got the rein, and I gathered and ate the whole harvest of that good thing between dawn and dark. Every glass of wine, or dram of whiskey, drunk by a healthy and strong young man, is an insult and injury to this good angel, and makes it so far impossible for her to do her perfect work, because he is spending ahead of his income of life, and bringing a fine power of being to beggary, if not to worse than that. He can only get that glow and flame at a heavy discount, both of life itself and of all that makes life worth living. Patience would help him to infinitely finer pleasures from her simple and wholesome stores, and they would stay with him as long as he lived; but he will not listen to her counsels, and will have none of her reproofs; therefore will she weep at his calamities, and mock when his dole cometh. There is a whole world of evils of very much the same sort, some more fatal still than the one I have named. It is the same thing whichever way we turn. Nature says one thing, and desire another. Only the perfect work of Patience can make both one, and then the result of both is grace. This is true, first, of our relation to one another. The very last thing most of us can learn of our relations to each other is to let Patience have her perfect work. Very few fathers and mothers learn the secret this angel is waiting to tell them about their children until perhaps the last is born. It is probable that he will give more trouble than any one of the others. Then love and duty were the motive powers; now it is love and patience. Patience is the only angel that can work with love. To refuse her blessing is to refuse God’s holiest gift, after what He has given us in the child’s own being. I think the day is yet to dawn when fathers and mothers will feel that they would rather scourge themselves as the old anchorites did, than scourge their little ones; and will not doubt that they, and not the child, deserve it, when they feel like doing it. The fruit ripens at last all right, if we have the grace to let the sun shine on it, and to guard it from the destroyer. All the tendencies of our time to give children the right to have a great deal of their own way, are good tendencies, if we will understand that their own way is of course the right way, as certainly as a Climbing vine follows the turn of the sun: all we have to do is carefully and patiently to open the right way for them wherever they turn. Patience, again, must have her perfect work in our whole relation to our fellow-men. It is very sad to read of the shameful things that have been done in the name of religion, for the sake of conformity: how the fagot has burned, and the rack has wrung. Want of patience, indeed, apart from the vilest reasons, must be the main cause for the dreadful rank growth of this evil weed of divorce in our social life. If they did love each other once, they will never find such blessing as could come to them, with patience as the aid to their affections. Human souls have an imperial quality in them; a turn for insisting on being master; and when they come so close together as husband and wife, and love recovers his sight, as he will, Patience must take up her part and adjust the thing by a constitution of equal rights, and by an equal giving up of rights, or, in spite of love, there will come infinite trouble. We have very much the same thing to learn in our relation to each other in the whole length and breadth of our life. Ministers with their people, and people with their ministers; employers with their servants, and servants with their employers; men in their dealings with men, and women in their judgments of women. For, finally, there must be a Divine impatience, too. Jesus Christ felt it now and then; but you have to notice that it is never with weakness or incompleteness, or even folly or sin; for all these He had only forbearance and forgiveness, and pity and sympathy. What roused Him, and made His heart throb, and His face glow, and His voice quiver with a Divine indignation, was the hollow pretence and ugly hypocrisy He had to encounter, and the judgments one man made of another out of a sense of superior attainment. That is our right, as much as it was His right, as we grow towards His great estate. Last of all, for this angel of Patience we must cry to heaven. (R. Collyer.)

The lesson of patience

We ought to learn this lesson, in the first place, because of THE COMFORT IT GIVES. Patience means not getting put out when things do not turn out just as we wish. Look at Job. Look at Abraham. And then look at Jacob. An old proverb says, “Patience is the remedy for all troubles.” The best remedy for hard times is patience. Patience stifles anger, and sweetens the temper, and subdues pride. Patience bridles the tongue, so that it shall not speak in anger, and holds back the hand from striking in wrath.

Patience makes us humble in prosperity, and cheerful in adversity. Patience comforts the poor, and restrains the rich.

In the second place, we ought to learn this lesson because of THE GOOD IT DOES. When a ship is going to sea, it is necessary for her to be properly ballasted. The ballast steadies the vessel, and enables her to meet the storms and billows in her way with safety. This shows us what good patience can do.

But there is a third reason why we should try to learn this lesson, and that is because of THE HELP WE HAVE in doing so. We have great help given, in seeking to learn this lesson, from the examples of those who have learned and practised it before us. Suppose we are trying to climb up a steep mountain. We find it very hard work. If we see no footprints of others, we may say, “No one has ever been along this path before. Perhaps it is impossible to reach the top of the mountain. What is the use of trying?” We feel discouraged, and cease striving. But if the path is well worn, and there are footprints, we know that many people have gone up the mountain: then we may feel encouraged to keep on climbing to the very top. And so, when we have examples of those who have learned the lesson of patience, and in whom “patience has had its perfect work,” then we may feel encouraged to try and learn this lesson for ourselves. How patient Jesus was all the days of His life on earth!” When He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not.” But this lesson of patience can be learned only by the help of God’s grace. (R. Newton, D. D.)


Patience is spoken of by the apostle in the text as having a work to do. Our work as men, as Christians, in this world is to strive to be more like God, more like Christ, in ourselves, in our home lives, our business lives, our duty, our pleasure; and this cannot be done without patience. Now patience has two main qualities which enable her to do her perfect work. Patience is willing to wait; secondly, patience is willing to endure. There is an old proverb, “All things come to him who can wait,” a proverb which commends itself to those who observe how in this world’s affairs hurry and worry hinder success, or spoil it, if gained. How often excitement or irritation mar the best laid plans, rendering a man useless or harmful at critical moments. Patience that is willing to wait is necessary even to energetic persons, eager to make money, and, as it is called, “to get on in the world.” They learn by experience that energy out of season is wasted, if not harmful, and so they bide their time, and are patiently watchful for opportunity. Now, if this is true in worldly matters, we need not be surprised to find that it has its counterpart in spiritual matters. Patience is willing to wait, being well aware that the strong walls of prejudice which divide class and class are founded mostly upon ignorance, and with it break down. It takes time, and therefore demands patience. Impatience would attempt to cure what is amiss by remedies which in themselves and in their consequences are worse than the disease. Patience, on the other hand, cherishes hope, and has faith in the increasing purpose of God for good--God whose mercies fail not. Patience willing to wait is characteristic of God’s providence. It was also characteristic of the life of Christ on earth. He who was content to grow in wisdom and stature was content to spend the long years of His early manhood in subjection to His earthly parents till He reached the age of thirty and the appointed time was fulfilled. But if in Christ’s life is seen patience thus willing to wait, in the record of His ministry and passion we see that very quality of patience which we speak of, namely, patience, willing to endure, working out for our sakes the perfection of human nature. And as a Teacher, what trials must His soul have felt--that soul full of knowledge and wisdom, yet only able to impart but little, and that little veiled in parable, to hearts not receptive and ears dull of hearing! How trying to the patience to find Himself misunderstood and the gospel lesson forgotten even by those nearest to Him and most ready to learn! And then again, all the feeling of indignation aroused by the wilful malignity of the “Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites,” insinuating, traducing, and finally conspiring to kill; and all this endured with patience. These are the facts which in the life and death of Christ tell us of His patience, willing to wait and willing to endure. (E. Warre, D. D.)

The perfect work of patience

This endurance, which the writer seems to consider the finally desirable thing, may have two meanings: it may signify the being able to bear whatever is laid on us by our Lord, and which we call patience, or it may signify permanence of character. The latter seems the fixed meaning. Before the blast the dead leaves are driven, or the waves on the surface of the ocean are tossed, but the tree has endurance and remains; the ocean has endurance and remains. It is this permanence of character which is desirable above all things. The earlier trials are the first weight imposed upon character. They tend to give compactness. There is a line of density below which no substance can be pressed. Every additional pound of weight causes that which is Dressed to approach that compactness which no additional burden can increase. This completed compactness the writer calls the “perfect work” of endurance. The sooner a man reaches this effect of trouble, the sooner is he at the point where no trouble can ever work him any harm. He is “perfect and entire.” (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

The completion of the godly character

The three characteristics of the man of God form a climax: ye are to be spiritually perfect, having all your graces and virtues in their entirety, and in no one thing are ye to be deficient; the ideal statue is not to present to the view one grace in abundant development, and another of stinted proportions, symmetry not deformity is the model, each part is well balanced with the rest, and all in graceful harmony with the whole; the law of physical is also the law of moral beauty. As the temptations spoken of are various, of divers sorts and kinds, assaulting and testing the various constituents of the whole character, the effect of a successful endurance of them severally would be the perfection of each and all of the members of the inner man, the completion of the godly character, the production of a man after God’s own heart. (F. T. Bassett, M. A.)

Verse 5

James 1:5

If any of you lack wisdom

Wisdom to be obtained from God alone


THE CASE SUPPOSED. “If any of you lack wisdom.” Although the case, is stated hypothetically, it contains an exact description of the real situation of every human being.

1. There are those who are familiar with the history of nations, who can speak many languages, who can expatiate on the sublimest sciences, who can philosophise on the causes of natural appearances and on the principles of the human mind, who are versed in almost every department of human knowledge; and yet are strangers to those simple truths, an acquaintance with which is necessary to their final happiness. Hear how Augustine expresses himself when addressing God, in reference to his applauded acquisitions, but real blindness in early life. “I was fond of learning, not indeed the first rudiments, but such as classical masters teach.” But “I attended to the wanderings of AEneas, while I forgot my own. Of what use was it to deplore the self-murdering Dido, while yet I could bear unmoved the death of my own soul, alienated from Thee during the course of these pursuits--from Thee, my God, my life? I loved Thee not, and (such the spirit of the world) I was applauded with, ‘Well done,’ on all sides. Alas! the torrent of human custom! who shall resist thee? How long will it be ere thou be dried up? “Let it not be supposed that this is to undervalue a learned education. Augustine had no such intention, as is clear from what he subjoins, “That literature which they wished me to acquire, with whatever intention, was yet capable of being applied to a good use. O my King, and my God, may whatever useful thing I acquired serve Thee. Still, O Lord, in my youth I have much to praise Thee for. Many, many were Thy gifts; the sin was mine that I sought pleasure, truth and happiness, not in Thee, but in the creature.” But let us not overlook the far greater number who can make no pretension to a learned education, and yet fancy they have no lack of wisdom.

2. There are your men of prudence, who escape the difficulties which perplex others, and whose well-laid schemes for worldly prosperity succeed to their most sanguine expectation. Every such person is commonly reckoned wise; but surely his wisdom, if thus limited, will not stand the test.

3. There are, again, in every class of society, men of ability, good sense and natural shrewdness, who are often in danger of forgetting the necessity of a higher species of wisdom. Nay, who at all acquainted with the scriptural view of human nature, does not perceive that fallen as we are, darkened as is our reason, and corrupted as are our affections, mere natural ability, if left to its own unrestrained influence, will certainly lead men astray from the path of truth?

4. Again, there are your minute reasoners, who either profess themselves to be already wise, or, if they allow their ignorance, expect light only from their own minds: these form another class who with many pass for wise men, but who are altogether destitute of the wisdom of salvation. Far be it from our intention to express any disrespect for the right use of reason; we speak of those who expect more from it than it can give. Pride is one very general cause of the rejection of salvation. This works in a variety of ways; but the two most striking are the pride of self-righteousness, and the pride of intellect. Alas! for those, who, thus walking in the light of their own fire, and compassing themselves about with sparks of their own kindling, carefully shut out the beams of the Sun of Righteousness! All these descriptions of persons, then, lack wisdom; but they are not all sensible of it. A great point is gained when men are brought to a knowledge of their own blindness, for those who know this are already in part taught of God.

5. But, are those who truly know, love, and serve the Lord, to be exempted from the list of those who lack wisdom? The more enlightened any man is, the more humble he invariably becomes. We are all included, then, in this description, either as being entirely destitute of any true wisdom, or as having still much to learn.

THE DIRECTION GIVEN, “Let him ask of God.” Man’s natural ignorance of all true religion being ascertained, the inquiry suggests itself, To whom shall he apply for instruction? Have there been no uncommonly able and enlightened men whose discoveries suffice to lead to safety and true goodness? In vain has it ever been to apply to philosophers, or to the priests of heathen temples. They did not so much as know the true God; how then could they lead others to His knowledge? “The world by wisdom knew not God.” As to any way of restoration to the Divine favour, they were totally in the dark. As to any change of heart, they knew not their need of it. And would there be more success in applying to sceptical writers of modern date? Not the least. Whom can the sick cure? whom can the blind direct? Hither, then, let all of us who regard wisdom betake ourselves. Shall we wait till Socrates know something, or Anaxagoras find out light in darkness, or Democritus draw up truth from the bottom of his well? Lo! a voice from heaven teaching the truth, and showing us a light brighter than the very sun. Why are we so unjust to ourselves as to hesitate to adopt this wisdom?--a wisdom which learned men have wasted their lives in seeking, but never could discover. If we lack wisdom, we must apply to God Himself; how then are we to know that His will is? He speaks to us in His Word. Yet this is not to be understood as if the mere perusal of Scripture would of itself bring to true practical wisdom, or even necessarily lead to the formation of correct theoretical opinions. Human teaching and the reading of the Scriptures in a spirit of self-dependence, may lead to orthodox notions; but they may lead far astray from them. Divine teaching is the only certain way of leading even to a correct line of thinking. This revelation is not a miraculous discovery of new truths, for in that sense they are all already revealed in Scripture; but it is the enabling of humbled persons to understand, to believe, to love, to obey, and to take a personal and lively interest in these truths. It is a work on the mind itself. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned.” If, then, we allow the necessity of this teaching, we ought next to inquire how it is to be obtained. To this inquiry the answer is direct--“Ask of God.” Prayer is the grand means of attaining this wisdom.

1. Comply with this direction in order to obtain just views of doctrine.

2. This suggests the use of this method to ascertain your religious state. You are enjoined to examine yourselves. But your hearts are deceitful. Ask, then, of God that He would be pleased to guide you to the right conclusion.

3. Ask wisdom of God to know and to avoid whatever is wrong.

4. Attend to this direction, too, that you may be led to the practical knowledge of positive duties.

5. In a state of uncertainty, as to the steps you should take in the important pursuits and changes of life, implore providential direction. “I will instruct thee.” saith the Lord, “and teach thee in the way that thou shouldest go; I will guide thee with Mine eye.”

6. If blessed with prosperity and affluence, you have the utmost need to pray that you may not forget God, but may attain wisdom to render your salvation certain, which would otherwise be impossible.

7. If pressed with severe afflictions, it is only when they are accompanied with Divine teaching, that you can so bear and so improve them as to reap any benefit from them. Nay, the direction itself cannot be properly complied with, unless we obtain, in the very attempt, wisdom to comply with it; for we cannot pray aright of ourselves. Let us, therefore, say with the disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

The encouraging PROMISE held forth to every one who will comply with the direction, God “giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” God is here represented as “the hearer of prayer”; yet with a particular reference to His answering of prayers for saving wisdom. In short, there is an express promise that whoever applies to God in cases of doctrine, or duty, shall be guided aright. But some will be disposed to say, “Is not this to set aside common sense and rational argument, and to open up the floodgates of fanaticism? or, if it must be so, how can these things be? Tell us precisely in what way this overruling influence is exerted.” This promise disclaims all regard to extraordinary voices, visions, impressions, and, in short, everything apart from the written Word. It calls on men to be found in the use of the ordinary means, and, sensible of their own liability to error, to implore that God would guide them. Now, how God’s directing the mind should be considered as impossible, or involving any absurdity, we are at a loss to conceive. We pretend not, indeed, to explain the precise manner of His operations; nay, we readily confess our inability to do so; but we ask whether this difficulty be not common to almost every inquiry of a similar nature. It meets, with equal force, all who allow a Providence, but who are obliged to confess that they cannot unravel its mysteries. What more irrational than to exclude the eternal Spirit Himself from all access to those spirits which owe their very being to His will?

1. That God has made this promise, should of itself convince us of its certainty; yet, perhaps, the best illustration of it which can be given is to show its fulfilment in fact. And here it may be remarked, that many of the most celebrated characters in Scripture have left evidence of its being fulfilled in their cases. “O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth.” “I have not departed from Thy judgments, for Thou hast taught me” Psalms 71:17; Psalms 119:102). A most striking instance is furnished in the history of Solomon

(1 Kings 3:1-28.). When the Apostle Peter uttered the believing declaration, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” our Lord answered and said unto him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed is unto thee, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things” (1 John 2:20). Nor has this teaching, in so far as it relates to a personal apprehension of Divine truth, been confined to the ages of inspiration.

2. Another proof of the fulfilment of this promise is exhibited in the uniformity of sentiment, of practice, and of heart, among truly humble, praying persons of every name. It is evident that those scholars who follow any one master who understands the science he professes to teach, will resemble each other in their ideas of that science, But, let it be observed, that we do not say that this promise extends to those who continue merely nominal Christians; nor ought any one to expect that it will be fulfilled in those who neglect the distinctly marked and the absolutely necessary prerequisites. It requires humility, a disposition of implicit submission to the dictates of Scripture, and dependence on Divine instruction. I have said there is a remarkable harmony of views among truly humble, praying persons. Do not oppose to this the differences of various denominations. As in the scholars of the same master we expect only a general agreement, and not a complete identity of sentiment; as in the children of the same family we expect to see only a general likeness, and not an absolute sameness of features; so is is among the disciples of the Lord Jesus--among the children of God. But there are some peculiarities of expression in this promise well deserving of attention, as directly calculated to remove every sentiment which would discourage you from applying to God. One may be ready to say, “It is true that the Lord thus instructs those who serve and honour Him; but it would be vain presumption, in so unworthy and sinful a creature as I am, to make application.” In reply to this, none are excluded but those who think themselves too wise to need His aid; but you are sensible of your need, therefore you are by no means excluded, for God “giveth to all men”--or all who ask. A second may be ready to say, “Were there only a few things in which I needed guidance, I could expect to be heard; but I am so very ignorant, there are so many questions which I need to ask, that I fear God would be offended with my importunity.” Hear, however, the encouraging declaration: God giveth “liberally.” All His communications are on a scale of liberality worthy of Himself, David testified that the Lord had “dealt bountifully” with his soul. And, finally, there are some who, if they do not speak out their minds, yet feel in this way; conscious of their ignorance, they are kept back from availing themselves of instruction by a fear that, in the very application, their ignorance will be detected, and that they themselves will be exposed to ridicule and contempt. There may be reason to apprehend such treatment from some of their fellow-creatures; but there is no reason to fear such treatment from their heavenly Teacher, for God “up-braideth not.”

To sum up the whole in a few practical exhortations.

1. See that you all use the external means of acquiring saving wisdom. It is a general rule that blessings are promised only when you are in the way of corresponding exertions. Let, then, the Word of God be your daily study. Attend on the preaching of the Gospel, because it is enjoined, and because experience proves it to be one great means of enlightening the mind.

2. Let me expostulate with you who have not followed the direction in the text. It is to be feared there are some of you who have never been brought to humble dependence on Divine teaching, but are under the lamentable deception of trust in your own minds.

3. Improve whatever light you already possess. But, more particularly, this subject speaks in encouraging language to those pious persons who are not possessed of human learning. Look up, then, thou taught of God, to Him who guides thee, lift up thy voice aloud and stag. The range of thy idea is limited, extending, perhaps, but a short way beyond the spot which gave thee birth; but, in much human wisdom there is often much sorrow; while the light that shall bless thee in heavenly mansions, already irradiates thy humble dwelling. Nor would it be the part of gratitude, or of benevolence, to keep all this precious wisdom to yourselves. Endeavour to diffuse it in your more immediate circle, on every side. And, to say no more, sensible of your remaining ignorance, continue in the same humble supplication for farther teaching, and abide all your lifetime in the school of Christ; so shall you, undoubtedly, obtain a clearer light--a light which will cheer you in the darkest night of sorrow, and turn even the shadow of death into the morning. (J. Foote, M. A.)

Asking wisdom in trial

WHO IS TO ASK? “If any of you lack ‘--evidently the lacking man. A man who is full does not feel the need of asking: he has no necessity for seeking. Now, we know as a matter of fact and of experience, that as long as we are living an even, prosperous life, even though we may be Christians, there is great danger lest we should fancy that we lack not. There is great danger lest we should be satisfied with our faith, with our Christian standing, with our conduct in the world, and with our general deportment. “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” But presently trial comes, and we know that trial very soon searches us out, and makes us feel that there is that in our faith which is lacking, that in our love which is lacking, that in our obedience which is lacking, that in our separation from the world which is lacking, that in many parts and phases of our Christian character and conduct, which comes far short of that to which it ought to have attained.

FOR WHAT? “If any of you lack”--now what are we to ask for? The case supposed is that of a Christian under trial. You will observe that the apostle does not direct us to pray for deliverance from the trial; he does not direct us to ask that the trial may be removed--this is a very common prayer; but it is rarely a wise or a safe prayer; and it is not often a successful prayer. St. Paul, when the thorn in the flesh was sent to him, sought the Lord thrice, that it might be taken from him; but it was not taken from him; his prayer was not answered as he had offered it. Neither, you will see, does the apostle direct us to pray for patience, for a stronger faith, for an entire submission; all that is most important. But what we want when the trial comes is, first and foremost, Divine wisdom, that we may be able first rightly to understand the true meaning of God in the discipline that we may be able to see what His purpose is in thus dealing with us. Then, having that wisdom, we shall receive the trial submissively and with resignation. I believe that one of the causes why men murmur so much against God’s discipline is because they do not understand it. And thus we shall use it rightly; we shall make use of it for our sanctification, and the perfecting of the work of God in the soul.

OF WHOM IS this wisdom to be sought? Obviously of God; and very emphatically is the giving character of God brought out in this verse, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask”--literally it is,” of the giving God”; “of the giver God, who giveth to all men.” Our Lord has taught us that it is “more blessed to give than to receive,” and it is one of the attributes of the Divine character that He delights in giving--He is God, the Giver. But the Christian under trial, feeling the impenitence and the hardness of his own heart, feeling how he has rebelled against God, feeling how little he deserves any blessing from God, may ask, “Is this for me? Have I any right to look for it?” Observe how large are the terms of the promise--“that giveth to all men”--there is no exception there. God gives, and He gives “simply.” There is no complexity in His giving. When man gives, he gives from a variety of motives, and he very often makes the person who receives feel that he is receiving a favour, and to receive that which is given to him with very unpleasant feelings; but there is nothing of this kind in God’s gifts. When He gives, He gives simply; as the word is further explained in what follows, “And upbraideth not.” There are things for which God does upbraid us. He rebukes us for our sins and our shortcomings, that we do not come and ask simply, as He is willing to give simply; but God never upbraids us for asking for wisdom; He never finds fault with us for seeking this great blessing and gift at His hands.

THE MANNER HOW are we to ask? The apostle does not say, “Let him ask with humility”--that is implied, I think. Every man who really feels his need will come to God in a humble spirit. Neither does he say, “Let him ask with reverence”; that, I think, is implied. Every man who feels his need and lifts up his thoughts to the great God must come before Him with more or less of reverence and abasement of self. That which is placed before us as the essential qualification of the prayer which is to receive air answer, is simply this,” Let him ask in faith,” with a full and certain persuasion that God can and that God will answer such petition. And it is this spirit of doubting which is condemned by the apostle, as that which absolutely disqualifies the person who prays for the reception of the promised grace. There are, I think, three reasons which are adduced in the verses which follow.

1. In the first place, the doubting man offers no firm heart, and no firm mind, for the reception of the Divine gift, and, therefore, God cannot deposit that gift, so to speak, upon that heart and mind. “He that wavereth, he that doubteth, is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed.”

2. But secondly, the doubting man dishonours God. If God makes a distinct promise, God declares that if we come before Him and ask for the fulfilment of that promise, He will grant it, and we come before Him doubting whether He wilt fulfil the promise and carry out His Word or not, do we not dis-honour Him?

3. But then there is another and a third reason given, namely, that the doubting man is unable to retain and to profit by the gift even if it were granted. “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” We know that double-mindedness is of the very essence of weakness. (E. Bayley, B.D.)

Religious wisdom

1. This wisdom may be said to consist in a knowledge of the truth of religion, at least of the principal and common proofs of it.

2. It consists in a knowledge of the things which a Christian ought to believe and to do.

3. And because to know our duty avails nothing, unless we practise it, religious wisdom consists in a lively sense of the possibility, reasonableness, obligation, and advantage of performing what God requires, which will excite us to persevere in the observation of it.

To WANT WISDOM, if we consider the words by themselves, MAY MEAN, EITHER TO HAVE NONE AT ALL, OR NOT TO HAVE A SUFFICIENT MEASURE OF IT. And here, if we consider the many frailties and defects which stick close to the best of men, and the violent assaults of some temptations, and the great faults into which the most religious have sometimes fallen, we may reasonably conclude that few, if any Christians, during this their state of probation, are so accomplished in this true wisdom as to need no further improvement.

If any of you lack wisdom, LET HIM ASK OF GOD. This must have seemed strange advice to those who ascribed too much to their own reason and relied too much on their own understanding. Men are often slow to give, and glad of any plausible excuse for witholding their hand: they often accompany their acts of kindness, when they condescend to perform them, with reluctance, haughtiness, and insolence, and upbraid at the same time that they relieve; they set too high a value upon the good offices which they have done: they expect most unreasonable submissions and compliances; and upon any failure this way, they make loud complaints of the ingratitude of the obliged person: they often bestow their favours, not according to the wants or to the deserts of those whom they assist, but either with a view to some return, or as mere unthinking capricious fancy directs. They will give to those who humour and flatter them, to the bold and importunate, against their inclination, purely to purchase repose, and with slights and forbidding coldness they will receive the person who hath everything that ought to recommend him to their esteem. A state of dependence upon God is liable to none of these inconveniences. If we lay open our wants to men, perhaps they will not believe us, or will charge them to our own fault; but the things of which we stand in need are known to God before we ask Him. Such encouragement we have to ask wisdom of God. One condition indeed there is, from which we cannot be excused, and that is a belief that we shall obtain our requests. Let him ask of God, and it shall be given him; but let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. It ought to be observed that, in the gospel, a firm persuasion of God’s good will towards us is perpetually represented as absolutely necessary to make us capable of obtaining any favours from Him. In the case of miracles, faith, that is a belief that the miracle should be performed, was often required both of the person who wrought the miracle, and of the person on whom it was wrought. When any came to our Saviour to be cured by Him, and declared their belief of His power, He always healed them, and usually added these words, “As thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee”; “Thy faith hath made thee whole”; “According to your faith be it unto you”; “Thy faith hath saved thee.” In prayer, also, the same condition is required, and without it we must not expect to obtain our petitions. Upon which it is natural to make these two inquiries: Why doth God so strictly require this faith? and, Why is it so acceptable to Him, that He rewards it with conferring upon us all that we ask?

1. God requires of us a belief that we shall obtain our petitions, because He hath given us abundant reason to believe it.

2. Another reason why God demands such faith is, because upon a belief of His paternal care and kindness all religion is founded.

The other question is, Why is this faith so acceptable to God that He rewards it with granting our petitions? If it be asked, Why so? the answer is, because it produceth many good moral effects; because it is the greatest honour which we can pay to God; and because it is one of the best proofs of a well-disposed mind.

1. A firm faith in God is the guardian of all other virtues, and suffers us not to be seduced by worldly hopes, or deterred by worldly fears from the performance of our duty; and as it is stronger or weaker, such will be its influence on our practice.

2. We cannot honour any man more than by placing an entire confidence in him.

3. A steady faith is also a victory over many doubts which the world and the flesh usually raise in vicious minds. (J. Jortin, D. D.)

Wisdom--how to be obtained

THE WANT SUPPOSED. Wisdom is far more than knowledge or understanding. We may have vast stores of information, we may even have high powers of mind, and after all be little if any better than the merest simpletons. It is a peculiar combination of the intellectual and the moral. It dictates the choice of worthy ends, and the employment of the most suitable means for the accomplishment of these ends. As a gracious thing, a spiritual gift, it is an enlarged acquaintance with the Divine revelations and dispensations, an insight into the meaning of the Word and the plan of Providence, especially as they bear on character and conduct, with a state of feeling and a course of action in harmony with their teaching. It consists in seeing what is the mind of God, what He would have us believe and do, and in yielding ourselves up to His will as thus ascertained, in the face of all opposition from without and from within, in defiance alike of frowns and flatteries fitted to turn us aside. He says here, “If any of you lack wisdom.” The present exhortation is closely connected with what precedes, and is to be viewed accordingly. Believers are to count it all joy when they fall into divers temptations; but how is that possible? Under these trials they are to let patience have its perfect work; they are to endure without fretting or fainting, without grasping at questionable expedients or premature deliverances, seeking through all and above all the attainment of a spiritual maturity, a Christian completeness, in which nothing shall be wanting. We can well imagine them saying, “Who is sufficient for these things?” How are we to pierce the darkness of the Divine dispensations and get at the meaning of His dealings? How can we thread our way through the perplexities of these manifold temptations? Wisdom, what wisdom, is needed for every part of it--for the regulation alike of our views, feelings, words, and actions in seasons of trial! “Well,” says the apostle, “if any of you realise this in your own cases, if you are sensible of your want of wisdom, if you feel unable to cope with these divers temptations, to solve such problems, escape from such snares, then here is the remedy--go and have your lack supplied, go and be Divinely fitted for the fiery ordeal.”


1. It is asking of God (James 1:5). It is not let him study, let him speculate, let him search human systems, let him ransack the recesses of his own being, let him cultivate and strain his intellectual powers to the utmost. It is thus men left to themselves have engaged in the pursuit of wisdom. Far simpler and more effective is the Scriptural method--“Let him ask”; that is all, only ask. But of whom? Is it of philosophers and sages so called, of the Aristotles and Platos of antiquity, or of their applauded successors in modern times, whether home or foreign? No; however wonderful the attainments of some of these have been--and we are far from depreciating them in their own place--they cannot bestow this gift, for they have not had it in any high and holy sense themselves. Is it of priests and prophets, of those holding sacred offices and possessing special spiritual speculations? No; they cannot effectually impart it, however much of it they may have received and manifested in their teaching. It is “of God”--the omniscient, all-wise, “only wise God.” He has it as one of Hisinfinite perfections; it is an essential attribute of His nature. He can communicate it to creatures truly, efficaciously, savingly, by His inspired Word and His Holy Spirit; and He is not less willing than able to do it, as His promises testify and His dealings demonstrate. “God that giveth.” It is literally “the giving God”--that God of whom this is characteristic, to whom giving specially, distinctively belongs. He is infinitely full, all-sufficient of and for Himself. He neither needs nor can receive anything, properly speaking. With Him there is only imparting, constant, unwearied communicating; and where there is a rendering back to Him, it can only be of what He has previously bestowed, both as regards the disposition and the offering. He “giveth to all men.” The term “men” is supplied by the translators. The statement, wide as it is in this form, admits of extension. His goodness reaches far beyond human beings (Psalms 145:15-16). But while we are not the only, we are the chief objects of His care and recipients of His bounty. How manifold the blessings which are showered down on men of every country, condition, and character--men without any distinction or exception whatever! But while thus true in the largest, most absolute sense of the expression, still we are most probably to regard the statement as limited to genuine suppliants, the giving in question being conditioned by the asking. His ear and hand are open to all who come in the manner here set forth. His grace is dispensed without partiality or distinction. He listens not merely to favoured classes or particular individuals, but to as many as call on His name in spirit and in truth. The one requisite is asking. Where there is that, the giving is never wanting. No real seeker is sent empty away. And now mark His mode or style of giving. He does it “liberally”; more literally and exactly, He does it “simply.” God confers blessing really and purely, without stint and without condition. There is nothing partial or hesitating about it, as there often is when performed by men. Theirs is generally a mixed and modified giving, a giving and a withholding--the one with the hand, the other with the heart--a giving and a taking; that is, doing it from a regard to certain returns tobe made, certain benefits to be received in consequence--a giving accompanied by terms that detract from the graciousness of the act and impose no light burden on those who accept the favour. God does it not thus; no, it is a free, single, simple thing in His case: it is giving, and that without mixture, that entire and alone--giving from the pure native love of giving. He says, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Nor does He confine Himself to what is asked. Often He far exceeds His people s requests (1 Kings 3:11-18). And upbraideth not. He indulges in no reproaches. He connects His bestowal of gifts with no recriminations. He might point to the past, and ask, “How much have I given you already, and what use have you made of these My former favours?” or, keeping to the present, He might say, “Think of your weakness and unworthiness--how unfit you are to appear before Me, how ill-prepared to receive any such blessing”; or, directing the view forward, He might chill our hearts and shut our mouths by declaring, “I know the miserable improvement you are sure to make of whatever I bestow--how you will break all these promises, falsify all these professions.” He does indeed seem at times thus to chide suppliants, as witness our Lord’s language to and His treatment of the Syro-Phoenician woman; but He does it only to stir up desire, try faith, and prepare the soul for appreciating more highly and receiving more gratefully what for the moment He appears to withhold. He does it to furnish new arguments, which the heaven-taught petitioner takes up and urges with irresistible effect. The apostle adds, “And it shall be given him.” There is here no peradventure, no mere chance or probability of success. There is absolute certainty. Many dig for treasure, and never find it; but in this field there is no possibility of failure. James may have had before his mind, when thus writing, that most precious passage (Matthew 7:7-11).

What encouragement is there here for those who lack wisdom, or indeed any blessing, to have recourse to this quarter for the needed supply I

2. It is asking in faith. Not only go to the right quarter, but also go in the right manner. Faith is absolutely essential in all our religious exercises Hebrews 11:6). It is specially insisted on as requisite to the success of our approaches to the mercy-seat (Matthew 21:22; James 5:15). We must draw near, confiding in the ability and willingness of God to grant our requests, resting in the truth of His Word, the certainty of His promises, and pleading for all through the infinite merits of the adorable Redeemer, having respect to His finished work, and it alone, as the ground of our acceptance and our expectations. “Nothing wavering.” We are to ask without doubting, fluctuating, vacillating--not carried hither and thither by conflicting influences. It refers first and chiefly to prayer. It is not to be irregular, inconstant, fitful--urgent to-day, formal, perhaps neglected altogether, to-morrow, it is not to be for this and the other thing by turns--now for one blessing, then for a different, as if we knew not what we lacked or desired, as if neither our wants nor wishes had any fixed, definite character, had any real and deep hold of our spirits. Above all, we are not to oscillate, like a pendulum, between faith and unbelief, distrust and confidence, at one time pleading with boldness, filling our mouths with arguments, bringing forth our strong reasons, and anon, it may be, saying or thinking there is no use of asking; we are too unworthy to be heard--we have been, and still will be sent empty away. “For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed.” What more unstable, restless, changeable! Such a wave is now carried toward the shore, then hurled back from it; now it mounts to heaven, then it goes down into the depths. It is in ceaseless motion, and yet, with all its rising and falling, there is in reality no progress. So it is with many persons. Borne along by strong feelings at certain seasons, you would think them decidedly, even ardently, religious. But while their emotions have been deeply stirred, their principles have not been thoroughly changed. The world retains its old hold of their hearts, and soon you may find them as eagerly devoted to its interests and as entirely conformed to its ways as those who made little or no profession. Believers have their fluctuations also. They have many ups and downs in their condition and their experience. Often are they in the midst of tumult; and the confusion around may be little in comparison with the confusion within. But still faith is the ruling, predominant power in them; it guides them through these tempestuous tossings, and under its influence the storm is changed into a calm. Having told us what wavering is like, the apostle now explains and enforces the warning against it by declaring that it must be fatal to success in prayer--“For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord” (verse 7). In point of fact he does receive from Him many a thing. He is constantly cared for and supported by that Lord whom he distrusts, He is fed, clothed, protected, blessed with countless temporal and not less with high spiritual privileges. But he need expect nothing in answer to prayer, as the fruit of his asking. He has no good reason to look for the least portion or any kind of favour by coming to the footstool of mercy. Why? His wavering hinders God from giving. Such a suppliant dishonours, insults God to His face, by doubting the truth of His Word, by treating Him as unworthy of confidence, by not drawing near in the way He has prescribed as that in which alone access can be had and benefits obtained. It unfits us for receiving, as well as hinders the Lord from giving. What use could we make of the blessing sought if it were granted? The unsteady hand cannot hold the full cup, but spills its contents. Those who have no stability, no fixed principles and plans, are little the better for anything they obtain. We often see this in temporal matters. Some persons are so changeable, irresolute, unreliable, that any help you give them is of little service. It is practically very much the same whether they have or want, for whatever they may get soon disappears. This feature of the ease is brought out strongly in what is added--“A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (verse 8); or, continuing the account of the waverer who is to receive nothing, James says of him, “He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” Double-minded--that is, he has a divided spirit; he is drawn in two opposite directions--now heavenward, then earthward; now he goes forward, then backward; now to the one side, then to the other. It is not only in prayer that his divided mind appears; that is but a manifestation of what comes out in every department of his conduct. It is only an index of his character generally. He is unsteady, uncertain, not to be depended on in his whole course of action. He wants the resolute will, the fixed purpose; he wants strength of mind and deep religious principle.

1. Let us realise our need of wisdom. Without it we will not discern the hand or the purpose of God in our divers temptations. Without it we will not see either the source of support under them or the door of deliverance from them. Without it we will flee to false refuges, and perhaps adopt means of cure worse a great deal than the disease itself. And we need it not only for the bearing and improvement of trial, but for the whole of our Christian work and warfare. We require the wisdom of the serpent amidst the snares and perils by which at every step we are surrounded. Not restrained and regulated by it, zeal often defeats its own ends, and injures the cause which it seeks to advance.

2. Let us see how this and every want is to be supplied. We must go out of ourselves, and rise far above all creatures. We must repair to the only good, the only wise God. Ask of Him--ask largely. We please not Him by coming with narrow and poor requests. Ask boldly. Not in a presumptuous or self-sufficient, but in a hopeful, confiding, filial manner. Be humble, but not timid; be lowly, but not fearful, desponding in spirit. Lay hold of the exceeding great and precious promises which are all yea and amen in Christ Jesus. (John Adam.)

Loving advice for anxious seekers

This verse has a special reference to persons in trouble. Much tempted and severely tried saints are frequently at their wits’ end, and though they may be persuaded that in the end good will come out of their afflictions, yet for the present they may be so distracted as not to know what to do. How seasonable is this word! However, the promise is not to be limited to any one particular application, for the word, “If any of you,” is so wide that whatever may be our necessity, whatever the dilemma, this text consoles us. This text might be peculiarly comforting to some of you who are working for God. You cannot work long for your heavenly Lord without perceiving that you need a greater wisdom than your own. To every honest Christian worker this text speaks with all the soft melody of an angel’s whisper. Thy lips shall overflow with knowledge, and thy tongue shall drop with words of wisdom, if thou wilt but wait on God and hear Him before thou speakest to thy fellow-men. Thou shalt be made wise to win souls if thou wilt learn to sit at the Master’s feet, that He may teach thee the art which He followed when on earth and follows still. But the class of persons who just now win my heart’s warmest sympathies are those who are seeking the Saviour; and, as the text says, “If any of you,” I thought I should be quite right in giving seekers a share of it.

THE GREAT LACK OF MANY SEEKERS, NAMELY, WISDOM. This lack occurs from divers reasons.

1. Sometimes it is their pride which makes them fools. Like Naaman, they would do some great thing if the prophet had bidden them, but they will not wash and be clean. If this be thy difficulty--and I believe in nine cases out of ten a proud heart is at the root of all difficulty about the sinner’s coming to Christ--then go to God about it, and seek wisdom from Him. He will show you the folly of this pride of yours, and teach you that simply to trust in Jesus is at once the safest and most suitable way of salvation.

2. Many persons also are made foolish, so that they lack wisdom through their despair. Probably nothing makes a man seem so much like a maniac as the loss of hope. When the mariner feels that the vessel is sinking, that the proud waves must soon overwhelm her, then he reels to and fro, and staggers like a drunken man, because he is at his wits’ end. Ah! poor heart, when thou seest the blackness of sin, I do not wonder that thou art driven to despair! You lack wisdom because you are in such a worry and turmoil. As John Bunyan used to say, you are much troubled up and down in your thoughts. I pray you, then, ask wisdom of God, and even out of the depths, if you cry unto Him, He will be pleased to instruct you and bring you out into a safe way.

3. No doubt many other persons lack wisdom because they are not instructed in gospel doctrine. The window of the understanding is blocked up with ignorance; if we could but clean away the cobwebs and filth, then might the light of the knowledge of Christ come streaming in, and they might rejoice in His salvation. Well, if you are be-mired and be-puzzled with difficult doctrine, the text comes to you and says, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God.”

4. Ignorance also of Christian experience is another cause for the lack of wisdom. The way of life is a new road to you, poor seeking soul, and therefore you lack wisdom in it and make many mistakes about it. The text lovingly advises, “Ask of God”; “Ask of God.”

5. Very likely, in addition to all this which may well enough make you lack wisdom, there are certain singularities in the action of Providence towards you which fill you with dismay. It is not at all an uncommon thing for the Lord to add to the inward scourgings of conscience the outward lashings of affliction. These double scourgings are meant for proud, stubborn hearts, that they may be humbly brought to Jesus’s feet. Then it is that eternal mercy will take advantage of your dire extremity, and your deep distress shall bring you to Christ, who never would have been brought by any other means.

6. Many lack wisdom because, in addition to all their fears and their ignorance, they are fiercely attacked by Satan. He it is who digs that Slough of Despond right in front of the wicket-gate and keeps the big dog to howl before the door so that poor trembling Mercy may go into a fainting fit and find herself too weak to knock at the door. Now, in such a plight as that, with your foolish heart, and the wicked world, and the evil one, and your sins in dreadful alliance to destroy you, what could such a poor timid one as you do if it were not for this precious word? “If any of you”--that must mean you--“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.”

THE PROPER PLACE OF A SEEKER’S RESORT--“Let him ask of God.” Now you perceive that the man is directed at once to God without any intermediate object or ceremony or person. Above all, do not let the seeker ask of himself and follow his own imaginings and feelings. All human guides are bad, but you yourself will be your own worst guide. “Let him ask of God.” When a man can honestly say, “I have bowed the knee unto the Lord God of Israel, and asked Him, for Jesus’s sake, to guide me by His Spirit, and then I turned to the Book of God, asking God to be my guide into the book,” I cannot believe but what such a man will soon obtain saving wisdom.


1. The text says, “Let him ask,” which is a method implying that ignorance is confessed. No man will ask wisdom till he knows that he is ignorant. Make a full confession, and this shall be a good beginning for prayer.

2. Asking has also in it the fact that God is believed in. We cannot ask of a person of whose existence we have any doubt, and we will not ask of a person of whose hearing us we have serious suspicions.

3. There is in this method of approaching God by asking also a clear sight that salvation is by grace. It does not say, “Let him buy of God, let him demand of God, let him earn from God.” Oh, no!--“let him ask of God.” It is the beggar’s word.

4. Observe here what an acknowledgment of dependence there is. The man sees that he cannot find wisdom anywhere else, but that it must come from God. He turns his eye to the only fountain, and leaves the broken cisterns.

The text has in it ABUNDANT ENCOURAGEMENT for such a seeker. There are four encouragements here.

1. “Let him ask of God, who giveth to all men.” What a wide statement--who “giveth to all men”! I will take it in its broadest extent. In natural things God does give to all men life, health, food, raiment. Now, if God hath gifts for all men, how much more will He have gifts for that man who earnestly turns his tearful eye to heaven and cries, “My Father, give me wisdom, that I may be reconciled to Thee through the death of Thy Son”!

Why, the grass, as Herbert says, never asked for the dew, and yet every blade has its own drop; and shall you daily cry for the dew of grace and there be no drop of Heaven’s grace for you? Impossible. Fancy your own child saying, “My father, my father, I want to be obedient, I want to be holy”; and suppose that you have power to make your child so, could you find it in your heart to refuse? No; it would be a greater joy to you to give than it could be to the child to accept. But it has been said the text ought not to be understood in that broad sense. I conceive that there is implied the limitation that God giveth to all who seek. There are some men who live and die without the liberal favours of grace, because they wickedly refuse them; but He gives to all true seekers liberally.

2. The next comfort is, He gives to all men liberally. God does not give as we do, a mere trifle to the beggar, but He bestows His wealth by handfuls.

3. It is added as a third comfort, “and upbraideth not.” That is a sweet word.

4. Then comes the last encouragement: “It shall be given him.” Looking through my text, I asked the question, “Is that last sentence wanted?” “Let him ask of God, which giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.” Now, if the Lord gives to all men, He will certainly give to the seeker. Is that last promise wanted? And I came to this conclusion, that it would not have been there if it was not required. There are some sinners who cannot be contented to draw obvious inferences; they must have it in black and white. Such is the fearfulness of their nature, they must have the promise in so many express words. Here they have it--“it shall be given him.” But to whom shall it be given? “If any of you lack wisdom.” “Well,” says one, “I am quite out of all catalogues; I am one by myself.” Well, but you are surely contained in this “any of you.” “Ah!” says one, “but I have a private fault, a sin, an offence which I would not dare to mention, which I believe has damned me for ever.” Yet the text says, “If any of you.” “Let him ask of God, and it shall be given him.” “But,” says one, “suppose my sins should prove to be too great!” I cannot, will not, suppose anything which can come in conflict with the positive Word of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Wisdom to be sought from God

1. What this wisdom is. It is the doctrine of the Cross here specified, namely, to endure patiently whatsoever God layeth upon us, and to know that God in singular love correcteth all those with the rod of affliction whom He purposeth to make heirs of His eternal glory. This to know is wisdom far greater than the wisdom of men. This wisdom standeth in two things--

(1) In knowledge, that we wisely understand the causes for which we are thus afflicted of God as that partly for the punishment of our sins, partly for the more manifestation and plain trial of our faith, partly for the advancement of God’s greater glory, that thereby in the deliverance of men from their calamities He might be more glorified; finally, that hereby we being touched might repent, lest we perish with the world. Hereof to have true understanding is a great point of wisdom.

(2) As the wisdom how to bear the cross consisteth in knowledge of the ends wherefore it is inflicted, so also it consisteth in an inward feeling and judgment when in our hearts and consciences we have sense of the comfort of the Spirit which in afflictions of this life supporteth us and with assured hope of safe deliverance in due season under-proppeth us.

2. This wisdom is not a quality in nature, but a grace and an excellent girt of God; therefore of Him only is this wisdom to be sought, which the apostle to intimate willeth that if any man lack this wisdom he should ask it of God. To bear the cross patiently, to know the use of afflictions truly, to feel the comfort of the Spirit inwardly--this is wisdom not of man, but of God, not of ourselves, but from His heavenly goodness, from whom all wisdom floweth as from a fountain.

3. Patiently to bear the cross, wisely and well to behave ourselves in our afflictions, being a gift from God, what hope have we to obtain it by asking of Him? Three ways are we here to conceive hope of obtaining this wisdom from God.

(1) From the promise we have from God that He will hear when we call, open when we knock, give when we ask it of Him. Almighty God assureth us of this hope by His prophet, by whom He willeth us in the days of tribulation to call upon Him, with promise that He will hear us. In fine, He protesteth that He is more ready to hear us than we to call upon Him, and more willing to supply our need than we desirous to ask it at His hands.

(2) As from the promise that is made us that we shall obtain, so from the liberality of God we must conceive hope of obtaining the thing we pray for. God giveth to every man liberally. Shall He not give us wisdom who is liberal to all men? Shall we distrust His goodness who is rich to all that call upon Him? Shall we suspect His bountifulness which poureth out plentifully His blessings upon all flesh?

(3) We have hope to obtain this wisdom at the hands of God from the goodness of His nature. He giveth His gifts liberally to all men, and He upbraideth none, neither casteth any man in the teeth either with His benefits so plentifully poured upon us or with our beggarliness and miserable want whereunto we are subject; therefore is there great hope of obtaining the wisdom we pray for.

4. But how shall we ask this wisdom? How shall we pray for the gift of patience that we may obtain it? Ask it in faith, and waver not! Faith in all the prayers of God’s saints is necessary, neither is there anything which more hindereth the grants of God towards man than when they doubt or waver in their prayers, distrusting either the power of God, as not able, or His goodness, as not willing to hear us in the days of our necessities, which distrustfulness is no small evil in the sight of God; neither is it a light matter to doubt of obtaining that thou desirest, whereby thy double heart and wavering mind is descried. Who in asking pretendest hope, in wavering distrustest either the power or promptness or readiness of God to give thee the desire of thy heart and to doubt either of His power or promptness and readiness of mind is great impiety, disloyalty, and ungodliness. (R. Turnbull.)

The discipline of need

1. All men are concluded under an estate of lacking. Dependence begetteth observance. If we were not forced to hang upon Heaven, and live upon the continued supplies of God, we would not care for Him.

2. Want and indigence put us upon prayer, and our addresses to Heaven begin at the sense of our own needs.

3. There is need of great wisdom for the right managing of afflictions.

(1) To discern of God’s end in it, to pick out the language and meaning of the dispensation (Micah 6:9). Our spirits are most satisfied when we discern God’s aim in everything.

(2) To know the nature of the affliction, whether it be to fan or to destroy; how it is intended for our good; and what uses and benefits we may make Psalms 94:12). The rod is a blessing when instruction goeth along with it.

(3) To find out your own duty; to know the things of obedience in the day of them (Luke 19:41). There are seasonable duties which become every providence; it is wisdom to find them out--to know what to do in every circumstance.

(4) To moderate the violences of our own passions. He that liveth by sense, will, and passion is not wise. Skill is required of us to apply apt counsels and comforts, that our hearts may be above the misery that our flesh is under. The Lord “giveth counsel in the reins,” and that calmeth the heart. Well, then--

(a) Get wisdom if you would get patience. Men of understanding have the greatest command of their affections.

(b) To confute the world’s censure; they count patience simplicity and meekness under injuries to be but blockishness and folly. No; it is a calmness of mind upon holy and wise grounds; but it is no new thing with the world to call good evil and to baptize graces with a name of their own fancying. As the astronomers call the glorious stars bulls, snakes, dragons, &c., so they miscall the most shining and glorious graces. Zeal is fury; strictness, nicety; and patience, folly! And yet James saith, “If any lack wisdom”--meaning patience.

(c) Would ye be accounted wise? Show it by the patience and calmness of your spirits. We naturally desire to be thought sinful rather than weak. “Are we blind also?” (John 9:40).

4. In all our wants we must immediately repair to God.

5. More particularly observe, wisdom must be sought of God. He is wise, the fountain of wisdom, an unexhausted fountain. His stock is not spent by misgiving (Job 32:8). Men have the faculty, but God gives the light, as the dial is capable of showing the time of day when the sun shines on it.

6. God will have everything fetched out by prayer (Ezekiel 36:37). Prayer coming between our desires and the bounty of God is a means to beget a due respect between Him and us; every audience increaseth love, thanks, and trust (Psalms 116:1-2). We usually wear with thanks what we win by prayer; and those comforts are best improved which we receive upon our knees.

7. Asking yieldeth a remedy for the greatest wants. Men sit down groaning under their discouragements because they do not look further than themselves. Oh! you do not know how you may speed in asking. God humbleth us with much weakness that He may put us upon prayer. That is easy to the Spirit which is hard to nature.

8. God’s dispensations to the creatures are carried in the way of a gift. Usually God bestoweth most upon those who, in the eye of the world, are of least desert and least able to requite Him. Both not He invite the worst freely? (Isaiah 55:1).

9. “To all men.” The proposals of God’s grace are very general and universal. It is a great encouragement that in the offer none are excluded. Why should we, then, exclude ourselves? (Matthew 11:28).

10. God’s gifts are free and liberal. Many times He giveth more than we ask, and our prayers come far short of what grace doth for us.

(1) Do not straiten God in your thoughts (Psalms 81:10). When God’s bounty is not only ever-flowing, but overflowing, we should make our thoughts and hopes as large and comprehensive as possibly they can be.

(2) Let us imitate our heavenly Father, and give liberally--with a free and a native bounty; give simply, not with a double mind.

11. Men are apt to upbraid, but not God.

(1) God gives quite in another manner than man doth. It is our fault to measure infiniteness by our last, and to muse of God according as we use ourselves. Let us learn not to do so. Whatever God doth He will do as a God, above the measure of the creatures, something befitting the infiniteness and eternity of His own essence.

(2) God does not reproach His people with the frequency of their addresses to Him for mercy, and is never weary doing them good.

13. One asking will prevail with God. (T. Manton.)

Needed wisdom

FOR WHAT THE WISDOM IS NEEDED. TO achieve Christian perfection. Materials for building a house are nothing without the requisite constructive ability. Recollect what abundant material the willing-hearted people brought for the making of the tabernacle; they had even to be stayed at last; but all the willing-heartedness would have done nothing without Bezaleel and Aholiab to make use of the materials.

THE WISDOM TO BE SOUGHT OF GOD. Thus there is relief from all need to attempt definitions of wisdom. The Father of Jesus knows what is needed toward perfection.

We are helped in asking by recollecting THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN GOD AND MEN IN RESPECT OF GIVING.

1. God is the giving God. That can be set forth as an element in His character. He is not part of the energy of life, which has to receive before it can give.

2. He is the God giving liberally. His giving is pure giving, giving for the need, giving uncomplicated by considerations of whether it will pay to give.

3. The God giving without reproach. God’s giving is ever gladsome giving. The more we ask for, of the right sort, the more He has to give and the better He is pleased. (D. Young, B. A.)

Wisdom to be asked of God

In one of Cicero’s moral books, in speaking of the things which we could properly ask of the gods, he enumerates such things as wealth, honour, and health of body, but he adds, it would be absurd to ask wisdom of any god, for it would be totally out of his power to give such a thing to his worshippers; whereas we Christians, and even the sincere and faithful Jews in the old times, believed that it was the first thing we have to ask of the true God. Of course we may not ask it under the name of wisdom, but it is the same practically if we ask for repentance, or for faith, or for obedience; for all these are a part of true wisdom, which may be described as the godly, the spiritual, the Christian mind. (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)

Religion the highest wisdom

It is evident that if the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever, then wisdom in the highest sense is simply another name for religion; and indeed that, looking at the matter from the point of view which an immortal creature ought to take, there is no real wisdom at all where religion is wanting. Suppose the owner of a factory for the making of some delicate and expensive fabric were to bestow great attention on certain departments of the manufacture, and exhibit much ingenuity in devising improvements on the machinery and processes connected with these departments, but neglected other branches, and, above all, gave little heed to the grand purpose of the whole, so that he produced unsatisfactory and unsaleable material, none of us would say that this was a wise man of business. An actual case of the kind is not very common, for the interests of this world keep men from such outrageous folly; but, alas! it is by no means rare to see a man of much worldly sagacity, heedless of the great ends of his being--diligent in the twisting of a certain thread, or the preparation of a certain dye, for the web of life, whilst yet the web itself, looked at in the light of the Lord, is worthless. True wisdom lies in the subjection of all our capacities and energies and affections to the control of high moral principles, and the consequent faithful application of them all to noble moral uses; and the fear of God is the beginning--the foundation--of this wisdom. (R. Johnstone, LL. B.)

Right judgment

This heaven-sent wisdom, discretion, right judgment, is that of which the Psalmist speaks (Psalms 32:9; Psalms 48:13). This is a part of the endowment of Pentecost. This is that gift of right estimate and practical wisdom which we need so much, and seek so little; and for the want of which all our lives through we make most lamentable and hurtful mistakes. Surely it was not Joshua only who erred when he made peace with the Gibeonites without seeking counsel from God. It was not David only who erred, when following his own opinion against the remonstrances of such a man as Joab, he numbered the people; but Christians who have received the Spirit, and who may always have larger and larger gifts of wisdom only for the asking; and amongst those foolish Christians, ourselves also, are continually falling into grievous errors for want of a right judgment. How happy would that country be, how peaceful and prosperous, if the citizens used a right judgment in all things. Far more would this possession be to them than rich mines, or fertile fields--a much greater endowment. Would parents indulge their children, to those children’s future misery, if they exercised a sound judgment? Now, they spoil their children, and too late use that most sad lament, “The more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.” Would parents place their children in places of temptation, in which, whilst their bodies perhaps grow, their souls shrink up and die, if by an exercise of right judgment they perceived that this world is not their children’s best prospect, nay, that it is their worst, if by misuse it mars the everlasting future? How about the parents’ own souls? Would it be possible for Christians with any real judgment, any show of wisdom and understanding, to value things temporal more than the unseen and the eternal? Knowing what they do of the value of education, of practising the powers of the mind and the body, could they dream that their present scanty devotions, stinted worship in the sanctuary, communions, if any, rare and ill-prepared for; few and hurried readings of Scripture, could they dream, I say, that their souls can thus be prepared for the presence of God? There is such a thing as a natural judgment, part of that endowment of reason which remains to us after the Fall, although often clouded and overpowered by passions. And even this we are often not at the trouble to use. We speak upon impulse, and act upon impulse; speak unadvisedly with our lips, and act hastily and unwisely. How few go to God, and ask for His guidance in their difficulties, and in every perplexing turn of their lives! How few pray earnestly for “right judgment in all things.” Few, few indeed. Oh what a privilege it is, what a happiness, to be able to commit our way to the Lord! What a comfort to be able to repair to Him and lay our burden down at His feet! When we cannot decide for ourselves, and when we cannot trust any man to decide for us, we can resort to the Ear which is ever open to our cry, the Eye ever watchful to guide us. And observe that the answer to our prayers is not simply good advice, or good influence. It is nothing less than the gift of the Holy Sprat Himself, which God bestows upon those that ask Him; nothing less than God the Holy Ghost, the Third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity, living wisdom, light, truth, holiness; disposing as well as directing, enabling as well as suggesting. (W. E.Heygate M. A.)

What is wisdom?

The wisdom we are to seek may be that wisdom which will enable us to turn every trouble to a good account. He is a great merchant who can make a great commercial disaster the foundation of a fortune. He is a great general who can wrench victory from defeat. He is a wise man who grows stronger in the midst of troubles which break weaker men. Or it may be that exalted nobility of spirit which James describes James 3:17) as produced by the wisdom which cometh down from above. Or it may be that same religiousness which is named in Scripture as “the fear of the Lord,” which fear the Psalmist (Psalms 111:10) calls “the beginning of wisdom,” and (Psalms 112:1) describes as great delight in the commandments of the Lord (see also Job 18:28). (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

God will give wisdom

If you honestly crave wisdom to make His will your will, to aim at that maturity and perfection of character which He knows to be your supreme good, He will as surely give you that wisdom as the sweet, pure, sun-warmed air will flow into your room when you throw open your window to the day. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Prayer for wisdom

Before he went into the school-life each day, Dr. Arnold prayed for himself this prayer, “O Lord, I have a busy world around me. Eye, and ear, and thought will be needed for the work to-day done amidst that busy world. Now I enter upon it, I would commit eye, ear, thought, and wish to Thee. Do Thou bless them, and keep their work Thine, that, as through Thy natural law my heart beats, and my blood flows, without any thought of mine for them, so my spiritual life may hold on its course at those times when my mind cannot consciously turn from my absorbing work to Thee. I commit each particular thought to Thy service. Hear my prayer, for my dear Redeemer’s sake.”

Asking wisdom from God

On assuming the governorship of the Soudan, a province half as large again as France, desolated by the slave-traders, whom it was to be his work to put down, Gordon wrote, “No man ever had a harder task than I, unaided, have before me, but it sits as a feather on me. As Solomon asked, I ask wisdom to govern this great people; and not only will He give it, but all else besides.” (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)

In search of the highest wisdom

Justin Martyr wanders in search of the highest wisdom, the knowledge of God.” He tries a Stoic, who tells him his Search is in vain. He turns to a second philosopher, whose mercenary tone quenches any hope of assistance from him. He appeals to a third, who requires the preliminary knowledge of music, astronomy, and geometry. Just think of a soul thirsting after God and pardon and peace being told, You cannot enter the palace and have access to the fountain until you have mastered music, astronomy, and geometry. What a weary climb for most I what a sheer inaccessible precipice for many of us! In his helplessness he applies to a follower of Plato, under whose guidance he does begin to cherish some hope that the road leading to the desired summit may some day be struck. But in a memorable hour, when earnestly groping after the path, he is met by a nameless old man, who discourses to him about Jesus the Christ. Without any more ado, he is at the end of his quest. “Straightway,” says Justin, “a flame was kindled in my soul,” and if not in the actual words, yet in spirit he sang--

“Thou, O Christ, art all I want, More than all in Thee I find.”
Wisdom and prayer

Bengel having observed, respecting the ways of Providence, how much often depends upon a single minute circumstance; look, for instance, he said, “how frequently all the events relating to a young clergyman’s marriage and future condition in life, and perhaps the destinies of many hundreds of souls, may be traced up to the apparent accident of a vacancy in some pastoral charge.” Here a friend replied, “This is what renders it so serious a matter to decide for one’s self; that one is perplexed to know whether one ought to proceed according to one’s best judgment immediately, or take more time to wait.” “This,” said Bengel, “is the very thing which makes it so desirable to pray without ceasing.” (Bengel’s Life.)

The characteristic of real wisdom

It belongs to true wisdom to meditate, hit upon, and mind whatever is to the purpose at the right time. (Bengel’s Life.)

Humility of wisdom

I have heard of a young man who went to college; and, when he had been there one year, his parent said to him, “What do you know? Do you know more than when you went?” “Oh, yes!” said he; “I do.” Then he went the second year, and was asked the same question. “Do you know more than when you went?” “Oh, no!” said he; “I know a great deal less.” “Well,” said the father, “you are getting on.” Then he went the third year, and was asked the same question, “What do you know now?” “Oh!” said he, “I don’t think I know anything.” “That is right,” said the father; “you have now learned to profit, since you say you know nothing.” He who is convinced that he knows nothing of himself, as he ought to know, gives up steering his ship, and lets God put His hand on the rudder. He lays aside his own wisdom, and cries, “O God! my little wisdom is cast at Thy feet: my little judgment is given to Thee.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Giveth to all men liberally

The amazing kindness of God

IN HIS BESTOWMENT OF THE HIGHEST SPIRITUAL GIFT. “Wisdom “consists in choosing those ends which are Worthy of our nature, which are the highest within the reach of our faculties, and in the employment of the best means in the best way for the attainment of those ends. It stands, in one word, for moral excellence or religion--the chief good.

In His bestowment of the highest spiritual gift ON THE SIMPLEST CONDITION. “Let him ask.” This means soul-asking, an earnest, importunate, persistent yearning.

1. The man who does not intensely desire this “wisdom,” or religion, will never have it.

2. The man who does intensely desire it is sure to have it.

In His bestowment of the highest spiritual gift, on the simplest condition, IN A SPIRIT OF SUBLIME GENEROSITY. He gives in a spirit of--

1. Impartiality;

2. Genuine liberality;

3. Unreproaching affection. (Homilist.)

The giving God

The writer seems to hear some of his readers say, “But it requires much wisdom to live thus in the midst of trials.” Very true I But the supply is at hand, “Ask of God.” “If any of you come short of wisdom, let him ask of the giving God.” What an encouraging epithet, “the giving God”--the God who is accustomed to give, who is known amongst men and ages as “The Giver”! And that there may be the utmost encouragement, James gives three characteristics of His giving: It is universal, abundant, unselfish. One may say, “I am so insignificant”; another, “I am so sinful”; another, “I have so little faith”; another, “I am so hard.” But you are a human being, and He gives to all. “But I am so fearfully lacking, my need of wisdom is so great. If I had any sense whatever, I might apply to Him.” But He “giveth liberally.” He longs to have great things asked of Him. Go to little men for little things. It is as easy for a great man to do a great thing, as for a small man to do a small thing. God, the Father, King of the world, may be asked for the largest gifts, since no giving can possibly render Him poorer. A humane monarch once said, “The greatest advantage of being a king is, that the king has the power to make so many happy.” The advantage which God has over all His children--even earthly monarchs--is that He has more power to make mere people happy. The unselfishness of the Divine Giver is seen in that He never “upbraids.” Human givers are so interested in their part of any giving transaction that a much-solicited person is apt to do or say something which shall remind the receiver of his obligation, and to make former gifts a reason for withholding that which is now sought; and, more especially, if good use has not been made of former benefactions, to upbraid the ungrateful or thriftless receivers. Even human parents sometimes do this. It requires the greatest nobility to rise above such inclinations. Our Father never upbraids. He never prints to the misuse we have made of any former gifts. He never tires of giving. He is so delighted to have us ask, that He Would have us more ashamed of not coming to Him for needed wisdom than for any other fault or sin. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

God’s manner of giving

To all sincere petitioners He “giveth liberally”--with unstinted hand, with glorious munificence. Jacob asked for “bread to eat and raiment to put on,” and God makes him “two bands.” Solomon prayed for an “understanding heart,” and God said (1 Kings 3:11-14). The prodigal thinks of the position of “an hired servant,” and his father Luke 15:22-24). Sweet and beautiful, however, as this word “liberally” is, the apostle’s own word is something even more comprehensive and encouraging. It is the adverbial form of the term employed in Romans 12:8, and Ephesians 6:5. The exact meaning here is, that God gives “with simplicity,” “with singleness of spirit”: He does not as men often do, give and yet in effect not give; He does not give, and yet by an unkind manner, or by subsequent ungenerous exactions, neutralise the benefit of His giving; His kindness in giving does not, as so often with men, fold in upon another motive of a selfish nature; His giving is without any duplicity, with singleness of aim to bless the recipient, to reveal the love of His own nature for the happiness of His creatures. “And upbraideth not” is pretty nearly an expansion, in a negative form, for the sake of clearness and emphasis, of the thought already giver in “liberally,” “with simplicity.” We may easily weary human benefactors. Those who have often shown no kindness are apt to feel continuing it a burden; and even if they do continue it, there is much chance of our hearing painful references to the frequency and largeness of our applications. Under these circumstances a suppliant may well enter the house even of one whom he has good cause to acknowledge as friend with hesitation and fear. But God, in His giving, “upbraideth not.” He makes no mention of our past folly and abuse of His kindness. He always employs His past kindness as an argument to induce us, through trust in His love, to ask for more and greater blessings (Psalms 81:10). (R. Johnstone, LL. B.)

Every trite prayer answered

How positive is the assurance of an answer to this prayer for wisdom! You may pray for a change of circumstances, for more land or money, or for success in some undertaking, or for deliverance from some trouble; and the Father may see that it is better to leave you just as you are, and answer your prayer in some other way. In some way for good every true prayer is answer, d. There could not possibly be an unanswered prayer without something greater than a miracle--without a revolution of the whole system of the universe. Until attraction repels, and heat makes cool, and effects produce their own causes, there cannot be an unanswered prayer, because God has ordained the connection between the real prayer, intellectually meant and heartily felt prayer, with the production of some spiritual good. The law of gravity is not more sure in its existence, or more unerring in its action, than the law of spiritual prayer. But, as in physical, so in spiritual operations, the result does not always come in the anticipated mode; but it comes somehow. The law of equivalents is unfailing. But there is one prayer which we know the Father will answer. There is no “perchance” here.

There are no conditions in asking God for wisdom. He that seeks it shall find. The petitioner may present his prayer as a claim, and demand the answer of this special prayer as the fulfilment of God’s special promise. All the more may he do so, because this wisdom is something no man can have by inheritance, and no man can acquire by any study under the best teachers and amidst the best circumstances, and no man can impart to his fellowman. For this wisdom we must “ask of God.” (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

The liberality of God

What abundant testimony we have to the liberality of God! The very winds proclaim it, as they sweep with tumultuous haste from shore to, shore all round the world. The sunshine utters it, as in silent majesty it ascends the heavens, and fills immensity with its glorious presence. The dew whispers it, as it steals softly down, until not a blade, or leaf, or flower but glitters with its vivifying beauty. The stars announce it, as they, the unnumbered host of God, come forth to shine in the inmeasurable depths of heaven. This is the testimony that He” giveth to all men liberally.” And yet there is testimony yet more conclusive still, although it would be strange to meet such signs of liberality even to lavishness here, and to meet with parsimony in a realm which encircles a life more precious and more permanent. The winds may cease, the sun may be obscured, the stars may fall, and the earth with all its works may be burnt up, but His Word shall not fail, and this His assurance and appeal--“He that spared not,” &c. (T. Stephenson.)

Divine liberality

Alexander the Great said to one overwhelmed with his generosity, “I give as a king.” Jehovah gives as the Infinite God.

Liberal gifts

A pasha once made one of his councillors open his mouth, and he filled it with diamonds and jewels. We may be sure he opened his mouth as wide as he could. So let us “open our mouths wide that they may be filled.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

God’s giving

His giving is not the cover of any unavowed purposes; it conceals no secret policy; it is frank, open, genuine. He gives for the sake of giving, and because He delights in it. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

Liberal answers to prayer

When poor men make requests to us, we usually answer them as the echo does the voice: the answer cuts off half the petition. We shall seldom find among men Jael’s courtesy, giving milk to those that ask water, except it be as this was, an entangling benefit, the better to introduce a mischief. There are not many Naamans among us, that, when you beg of them one talent, will force you to take two; but God’s answer to our prayers is like a multiplying glass, which renders the request much greater in the answer than it was in the prayer. (Bp. Reynolds.)

God gives without upbraiding

This is a very interesting feature in the character of the Divine Being as a Giver. Not a little of the value of a gift--I mean, of course, not the intrinsic value, but the pleasure imparted bythe reception of it--arises from the manner of its bestowal. We feel this, in receiving from a fellow creature. Even a poor man, of any sensibility, would many a time rather be without the alms he seeks, than have it with the ill-natured or the contemptuous scowl with which it is given--thrown to him, it may be, to send him about his business and get rid of his troublesome importunity. How wide the difference of his emotions, when the same or even a less a his is bestowed with open-handed cheerfulness, or the tear of tender pity! Even in higher cases than that of the mere beggar, a gift is often bestowed with what we calf a bad grace; with a manifest grudge; with some reflection against the petitioner for his folly, or for the trouble he causes. This is not God’s way. He “upbraideth not.” In the first place, He upbraids not the petitioner who comes to Him for wisdom, with his want of it--with his stupidity and folly. On the contrary, He is pleased with that sense of deficiency--that humble consciousness of proneness to err which brings the suppliant to His footstool. In the second place, He does not “upbraid” the petitioner for his importunity; for it is by making importunity necessary that He tries faith--tests its reality and its strength. He is never wearied with the frequency, or displeased with the pressing earnestness of the petitions presented. He receives all graciously. He rejects none. When they embrace His very feet in the earnestness of desire, He spurns them not from Him. Nor does He “send them away empty.” (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Verse 6

James 1:6

But let him ask in faith

Faith in prayer

What is it to ask in faith?

To this some things are requisite as necessary conditions, though more remotely; some things as essential ingredients.


1. The asker must be in the faith, or rather faith in him; the petitioner must be a believer. How can he ask in faith who has no faith? (John 16:23.) How can he ask in Christ’s name who believes not in it? There is no answer for him that is not a believer, “God heareth not sinners” (John 9:31). A fervent prayer for a thing unlawful is a crying sin.

2. The thing asked for must be an object of faith; such things as you may upon good grounds believe that God will grant (1 John 5:14).

3. The manner of asking must be faithful.

(1) With fervency. He does not ask in faith that asks not fervently (chap. 5:16). If we pray as if we prayed not, God will hear as though He heard not, take little notice except to correct. Strong cries only pierce heaven; such were Christ’s.

(2) With submission.

(3) With right intentions. We must pray to glorify God, make us serviceable to Him, capable of communion with Him.

THE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS OF THIS DUTY ARE THE ACTINGS OF FAITH IN PRAYER, which are one or other of these four. He whose faith puts forth any one of these acts prays in faith.

1. Particular application. Believing the promises whereby God has engaged Himself to give what he asks; so to ask in faith is to pray with confidence the Lord will grant the petition, because He has promised.

2. Fiducial recumbence. Faith can read an answer of prayer in the name of God, and stay itself there, when a promise appears not, or, through faith’s weakness, cannot support it (Isaiah 50:10-11).

3. A general persuasion that the prayer shall be heard. The prayer may be heard, though the thing desired be not presently bestowed, or not bestowed at all. And so a man may pray in faith, though he be not confident that what he prays for shall be given him, much more that it shall not be presently given.

4. A special confidence that the very same thing which is asked shall be given. Use: Take notice of the misery of unbelievers. They that cannot pray in faith must not expect to have their prayers heard. Of all duties and privileges, none more advantageous and comfortable than prayer; but it is faithful prayer: for without faith there is neither advantage by it, nor comfort in it. To pray, and not in faith, is to profane the ordinance. Pray as much, as often as you will, if not in faith, you lose your labour. The apostle is peremptory, “Let not that man think he shall receive anything of the Lord” (James 1:7).

Now to prevent this wavering, this doubting, so dishonourable and offensive to God; so prejudicial, dangerous, uncomfortable to you: let me prescribe some directions, the observance of which will establish the heart, and encourage faith, in your approaches to God.

1. Get assurance of your interest in the covenant; that Christ has loved you, and washed you from your sins in His blood; that He has given you His Spirit; that you are reconciled and in favour. If you be sure you are His favourites, you may be sure to have His ear.

2. Consider, the Lord is engaged to hear prayer. Faith may conclude He will hear, for He will not, He cannot, be false to His engagement; but He is engaged strongly, by His titles, attributes, dec. When you pray consider He is able to hear and give what you ask. It is gross atheism to doubt of this, to question omnipotency. Consider He can do abundantly (Ephesians 3:20). He can do more than we ask. Easily. He can do the greatest thing you ask more easily than you can do the least thing you think. Safely. Without any loss or damage to Himself, without any diminution of that infinite store that is in Himself. He is willing. Faith seldom questions God’s power; that which hinders its actings is doubts whether He is willing. But there is more reason to question this, for He is as willing as He is able.

3. Consider the nature and dignity of prayer, which affords divers arguments to confirm faith.

(1) It is God’s ordinance, instituted and enjoined for this end.

(2) He in Scripture adorns it with, and ascribes to it, many transcendent privileges, such as, considered, may fortify the most languishing faith. There is a strength in prayer which has power with God (Hosea 12:3-4).

(3) Prayer is the Lord’s delight, the most pleasing service we can ordinarily tender; therefore He does not only most frequently command it, but importunately sue for it. Let me hear thy voice, says Christ to His spouse Song of Solomon 2:14), for thy voice is sweet. It is sweet as incense Psalms 141:2; Proverbs 15:8).

4. Consider the promises. The Lord has promised He will hear. If ye doubt He will hear, ye doubt He is faithful. Consider how many, how universal, how engaging.

5. Consider your relation to God. He is your Father; Christ teaches us to begin with this.

6. He gets glory by hearing prayer.

7. Consider the success of others, how effectual the prayers of God’s ancient people have been; this affords great encouragement.

8. Consider your own experiences, how many times God has answered your prayers formerly; that will be a great encouragement to trust Him for time to come. Those that have tried God are inexcusable if they will not trust Him.

9. Labour to remove those discouragements which hinder the exercise of faith in prayer, or weaken it in its actings. Try whether we pray in faith.

(1) Backwardness to pray is a sign that you pray not in faith.

(2) Carelessness in praying.

(3) Perplexity and solicitousness after prayer.

This was a sign Hannah prayed in faith (1 Samuel 1:1-28.).

(a) How can they believe their prayers will be accepted who see no ground to believe that their persons are accepted? There is a confidence to be found in unregenerate men in their addresses to God. The confidence of faith in prayer differs from this presumptuous confidence.

(1) In its rise. The carnal man arrives at this confidence he knows not how. He attained it with ease, it cost him nothing; it sprang up in him as a mushroom, on a sudden, without his care or industry. Whereas the confidence of faith is not in an ordinary way so soon, nor so easily, nor so insensibly attained.

(2) In the grounds. Presumption has either no ground at all, or else it is raised upon nothing but the sand; in some it springs from their natural temper. But now the confidence of faith is to be found in those who are most modest as to their natural constitutions, when once they are renewed and fortified by the power of grace. Christ and the promise is the ground of this confidence.

(3) In the attendants. Confidence of faith is accompanied with--

(a) Reverence; a filial and a holy fear of God.

(b) Resignation of his will and wisdom to the will and wisdom of God.

(4) In the effects. (D. Clarkson, B. D.)

Wavering prayer

1. The apostle condemneth it, first, from a comparison or similitude, wherein the doubtful person in prayer is compared to a wave of the sea. For as a wave or surge of the sea swelleth by the rising of the wind, and by the strength thereof is carried hither and thither, and never remaineth steady, but always is troubled, so is a wavering minded man; for his manifold imaginations, his sundry cogitations, his divers thoughts of heart, so toss him and carry him up and down, that his mind can never rest, but is always vexed and never surely fixed upon any one thing; for now he thinketh God will hear him, and by and by he mis-doubteth; now he persuadeth himself God can give him his heart’s desire, and forthwith he mistrusteth; now he conceiveth hope, and immediately he fainteth; now he saith with himself, I will make sure to God; but straightway he feareth. Thus is he tossed and troubled by his own cogitations, and carried away with the wind of his own vanity, and never resteth: wherefore he is well compared to a wave, of the wind and moved air tossed and tumbled.

2. As by this plain similitude, de this doubtfulness and inconstancy is condemned, so in like manner, and secondly, by a reason from discommodity and disadvantage, which followeth this wavering, the reason is this: that which bringeth no good unto men, but procureth hurt rather, ought not to be used among the saints of God. If a man should come to his neighbour and say, “Sir, I have a suit unto you, but I doubt I shall not obtain it, for I fear either you cannot, or at least you will not, perform my desire,” doth he not stay the hand of the giver--doth he not make himself unworthy to receive anything that is so doubtful? Shall it not be replied, “Shall I do for him that hath me in suspicion that I will not help him, and doubteth of my good nature and frank heart towards him?”

3. The third and last way whereby he condemneth this is from a sentence generally received of all men, which he protested, as it were, proverbially. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways, therefore wavering in prayer is condemned. Unstable, which is derived from the commonwealth, which, having laws and orders whereby it may be governed, and they carefully observed. The commonwealth thereby hath her quietness and stability, whatsoever hindereth the prosperous quietness of the commonwealth, whatsoever is against good laws and orders, as sedition, tumults, uproars, tyrannical empire and bearing rule, and the like is called unstable, so in like manner in the mind of man, whilst reason ruleth and executeth her office, the affections of man continue in their place, and man’s mind resteth in her quiet constitution; but if the affections break the bonds which reason prefixeth, there ariseth disorderedness and instability. He therefore which, doubting and wavering, prayeth, hath a disturbed and disordered mind, and hath in himself an uproar and tumult of affections which follow another thing than faith prescribeth, therefore is said to be unstable in all his ways. The double and wavering minded man is like an old and tottering wall, which daily shaketh and is always in danger of falling; yea, like the foolish man’s building in the gospel, whose foundation being but on the sand, at the rain falling, at the floods rising, at the wind blowing, and the tempest raging, is in daily danger of ruin. The inconstant and wavering minded man, like the weathercock, is always turning, never long staying. Sometimes the wind of vainglorious ambition carrieth him with mainsail to pride; sometimes the blast of filthy pleasure thrusteth him headlong to unclean conversation; sometimes the swelling waves and mighty surges of prosperous condition enforceth him to vain confidence; sometimes the woful state of adversity casteth him violently into utter desperation; sometimes by desire of gain he is carried into covetousness; sometimes as careless of his estate he lavisheth out at large, and spendeth his goods by prodigality; sometimes he is allured with fleshly pleasures, sometimes he is cast down with fear, sometimes he is carried away with contempt and arrogancy of his spirit; now his mind is set upon this thing, now upon another, that he may rightly say with St. James, that he is unstable in all his ways. The wavering minded man, subject to all affections that are evil, and to all dangerous alterations, may therefore be compared to the unstable reed, which boweth and turneth at every wind; his unstayedness and instability carrieth the wavering minded man now into this danger, now into that, and so is always near unto perdition. (R. Turnbull.)

How must we pray in faith


1. TO “ask in faith” may be here spoken in reference to the person that prays; namely, he that prays must be in the faith, a faithful or righteous person (Psalms 66:18). “The prayer of a righteous man availeth much” James 5:16).

2. To “ask in faith” is to believe that all we say in prayer is true. When we confess ourselves to be grievous sinners, we are to think ourselves to be as great sinners as we say we are; when we call God Almighty “our Father,” we are to believe Him to be so.

3. We are to believe that whatsoever we ask of God in prayer is according to His will.

As concerning the matter of our prayers we are to believe as hath been said, so AS TO GOD WE ARE TO BELIEVE SEVERAL THINGS. Indeed, scarce any of His attributes but some way or other we are to act our faith upon in prayer; but I shall choose some few on which the eye of faith is especially fixed in prayer.

1. The first is God’s omniscience; for else we shall be at a great loss. If we believe not this, how can we be assured that God hears our prayers?

2. We are to believe God’s providence, that He rules and orders all things. Whoso thinks that all things are ruled by second causes, by the power and policy of men, or by the stars, or chance, they will not pray at all, or go to God merely as a refuge: we shall pray to God, but trust to ourselves; or to medicines when we are sick, and to our food when we are well.

3. God’s omnipotence is to be believed. Else we will stagger through unbelief.

4. We must act our faith upon His goodness and bounty. If we do not believe that the goodness of God is as much above the love of our dearest friend, as we account His wisdom and power above our friend’s, we have unworthy thoughts of that attribute which God hath most abundantly manifested, and would have most glorified; and the love our friend bears us is but a drop from and of that ocean that is in God.

The third object of faith are THE PROMISES; and there are three kinds, some to prayer, some to the person praying. We are to act our faith upon all.

The fourth and main object of faith which our faith must eye in our prayers, is CHRIST, in whom “all the promises are Yea and Amen , who hath reconciled the person and attributes of God: and concerning Christ we are to believe--

1. The great love God bears to Christ. Which is doubtless greater than to the whole creation.

2. We are to believe the fulness of Christ’s satisfaction, and the greatness of the value and efficacy of the death of Christ. For if justice be not satisfied, we have no throne of grace, but a bar of justice, to come before.

The blood of Christ hath a pacifying, purifying, purchasing, perfuming, reconciling, satisfying, justifying, virtue.

3. We are to believe the efficacy and infallible success of Christ’s intercession. Christ doth four things as to our prayers.

(1) He indites them by His Spirit;

(2) He perfumes them by His merit; then--

(3) He presents our prayers and persons; for we have access through Him (Ephesians 3:12); and then--

(4) Superadds His own intercession, His blood crying louder than our sins, and better things than our prayers.

4. We are to believe and improve this truth; namely, that the Father exceedingly delights to Christ. And hereby God wonderfully honours Christ, by pardoning and receiving into favour such rebellious sinners as we are, for His sake, by forgiving anything for His sake.

5. We are to believe, improve, and obey Christ’s commands (John 14:13-14; John 16:23).

(1) We are to believe these things of God and Christ with an historical faith.

(2) With a faith, of recumbency. We are to rely upon the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, and upon Christ’s interest in God, &c.

(3) Saints are, by way of duty, but not by way of a necessary condition of obtaining whatsoever they ask, to believe with the faith of assurance of obtaining whatsoever we pray for. (Thos. White, LL. B.)

Man given to doubting

1. The trial of a true prayer is the faith of it.

(1) An actual reliance upon the grace and merits of Jesus Christ. We cannot lift up a thought of hope and trust but by Him. We must come humbly; we are sinners: but we must come in faith also; Christ is a Saviour: it is our folly, under colour of humbling ourselves, to have low thoughts of God. If we had skill, we should see that all graces, like the stones in the building, have a marvellous symmetry and compliance one with another; and we may come humbly, yet boldly, in Christ.

(2) We must put up no prayer but what we can put up in faith: prayer must be regulated by faith, and faith must not wander out of the limits of the word. If you have a promise, yon may be confident that your requests will be heard, though in God’s season: you cannot put up a carnal desire in 1 John 5:14). All things are to be asked in faith; some things absolutely, as spiritual blessings--I mean, as considered in their essence, not degree. Degrees are arbitrary. Other things conditionally, as outward blessings. Let the prayer be according to the word, and the success will be according to the prayer.

(3) The soul must actually magnify God’s attributes in every prayer, and distinctly urge them against the present doubt and fear.

2. Man’s nature is much given to disputes against the grace and promises of God. Carnal reason is faith’s worst enemy. Then is our reason well employed, when it serves to urge conclusions of faith.

3. The less we doubt, the more we come up to the nature of true faith. Do not debate whether it be better to cast yourselves upon God’s promise and disposal, or to leave yourselves to your own carnal care; that is no faith when the heart wavers between hopes and fears, help and God (Luke 12:29). Get a clear interest in Christ, and a more distinct apprehension of God’s attributes. Ignorance perplexeth us, and filleth the soul with dark reasonings, but faith settleth the soul, and giveth it a greater constancy.

4. Doubts are perplexing, and torment the mind. An unbeliever is like the waves of the sea, always rolling; but a believer is like a tree, much shaken, but firm at root. (T. Manton.)

Faith necessary to successful prayer

“While the prayer of faith,” said an eloquent Welsh preacher, “is sure to succeed, our prayers, alas! too often resemble the mischievous tricks of children in a town, who knock at their neighbours’ houses, and then run away. We often knock at mercy’s door, and then run away, instead of waiting for an entrance and an answer. Thus we act as if we were afraid of having our prayers answered” (New Cyclopaedia of Illustrations.)

He that wavereth

Unstable men

Paul describes them as being “driven about by every wind.” You never know where to find them; they are scarcely ever two days alike. The chameleon is said to take its colour from its surroundings, and so would it seem do these religions changeabilities. But, after all, these are not so dangerous to other people as are those who for the most part are consistent, but who at rare intervals seem to fall into sin. A clock that ever varies is never trusted even when it is right, and therefore does but little mischief; but let the trusted time-keeper go wrong, and the whole town may be thrown into confusion. And this applies the more forcibly as our position may be more public and conspicuous. Your own watch in your pocket may be altogether wrong, and nobody may know it but yourself, but if the clock in the steeple be in error, the fact will be on every lip. What the good beacon is to the sailor, such should every Christian be amongst men. The pilot making his way towards the Thames is shaping his course by the lightship; but, alas! the lightship has broken from her moorings, and soon both the “guide” and the voyager are stranded on the Goodwins. I was sitting one day looking out on the beautiful Mediterranean as it was lashed by the gale, and I was struck by what appeared to be the hesitancy of a vessel to enter the harbour. She backed and filled and stood off and on, when, as I supposed, she might have entered forthwith. The secret, however, Soon explained itself. Amongst the breakers dashing along the shore, there was being tossed “to and fro” one of the large black buoys which had previously marked the channel entrance. During the gale it had been driven from its moorings, and from being a useful guide it had become a helpless log. Alas that any who have been guides to others should ever be found amongst the miserable breakers of sin, driven away from the moorings of Christian believing and of Christian living. (W. H. Burton.)

Doubts neutralise

Of course no blessing comes if the man doubts. God could not give in such a case, because the man could not receive. When the Father has promised His wisdom, a special spiritual gift, how can it rule me if I close all the avenues of my spirit by my unbelief? The object of the gift is to improve the relations between the Father and the child, but manifestly that cannot begin to be done if the child believes that the Father is a liar, or even if he fail to have the most perfect faith in the honour and good intentions of the Father. He must not doubt. If he is not willing to give God trust, how can he expect God to give him wisdom? (G. F. Deems, D. D.)

Wavering prayers

Place yourselves on the seashore in a storm; you see the billows rise up in varied form and size, but not one assumes its form or height independently of the rest. As the wind blows more or less violently, as it comes from this or that quarter, as the following wave presses on with greater or less force, will be the size and duration of each one that approaches you. And thus it is with the inclinations and wishes of men; they receive their direction from without, from this or that impulse, and fluctuate hither and thither as outward obstacles vary. Their wishes and resolves are never clear and determinate; their heart is always divided; they are fickle, wavering, inconstant, in all their ways. Is this the right condition of mind for prayer? For what are we especially to pray? To-day about one thing, to-morrow about another? At the present hour are we to pray ardently for a gift, about which at the next we shall be utterly careless? or shall we be earnestly interceding for an individual, to whose welfare in a few hours we are quite indifferent? Can this be what is meant by praying in faith? No; for in such a state of perpetual variation there is no faith, no certain assurance of the object of hope, no undoubting belief of that which we do not see. (B. Jacobi.)

A royal waverer

James the First of England, and the Sixth of Scotland, was a waverer. He was aware of this defect, and heard of a preacher who was singularly happy in his choice of texts. James appointed him to preach before him, that he might put his abilities to the test. The preacher, with the utmost gravity, gave out his text in the following words: “James the First and Sixth [James 1:6], in the latter part of the verse, ‘ For he that wavereth,’” &c. “He is at me already!” said the king.

Want of application

An eminent Frenchman hit off in a single phrase the characteristic quality of the inhabitants of a particular district, in which a friend of his proposed to settle and buy land. “Beware,” said he, “of making a purchase there; I know the men of that department; the pupils who come to it from our veterinary school at Paris do not strike hard on the anvil; they want energy, and you will not get a satisfactory return on any capital you may invest there.” (S. Smiles.)

Verse 7

James 1:7

Let not that man think that he shall receive

Unbelieving prayer useless


Unbelievers, though they may receive something, yet they can expect nothing from God. They are under a double misery.

(1) They can lift up no thoughts of hope and comfort, for they are not under the assurance of a promise.

(2) If they receive anything, they cannot leek upon it as coming by promise, or as a return of prayers.

2. Men usually deceive themselves with vain hopes and thoughts; they are out in their thinking (Matthew 3:9).

3. The cause why we receive not upon asking is not from God, but ourselves; He “giveth liberally,” but we pray doubtingly. He would give, but we cannot receive. We see men are discouraged when they are distrusted, and suspicion is the ready way to make them unfaithful; and, certainly, when we distrust God, it is not reasonable we should expect aught from Him.

4. From that “anything”--neither wisdom nor anything else--that God thinketh the least mercy too good for unbelievers: He thinketh nothing too good for faith, nod anything too good for unbelief.

5. From that “from the Lord,” that the fruit of our prayers is received from the hands of Christ; He is the middle person by whom God conveyeth blessings to us, and we return duty to Him. (T. Manton.)

Verse 8

James 1:8

A double-minded man is unstable

The instability of a double-minded man



1. His understanding is various.

2. He acts as if he had two wills.

3. His affections are spiritual or carnal, serious or sensual, heavenly or worldly, just as the two contrary principles of flesh and spirit prevail in him, which alternately sway the mind, and of which alternate sway this variableness of temper is the certain effect.


1. The double-minded man is inconstant in his purposes and pursuits.

2. Another effect of such a divided heart is that it can seldom in good earnest fall in with the dictates of conscience in the plainest instances of duty.

3. The double-minded man is easily overcome in an hour of temptation.


1. There is no man but what hath, and must have, some leading views in life, some grand point at which he aims, and to which he makes almost all his other views subservient.

2. Common understanding and reason will lead a man to examine what this great end is that he drives at.

3. Every man, as a reasonable creature, endowed by his Maker with reflection and understanding, should take special care that his governing aims be right.

4. Before we can know what ought to be our great and governing views, we must know what we are and what we are designed for.

5. That to serve and please and fear that great God that gave us being is our great concern, and ought at all times to be our governing view, as reasonable creatures born for immortality. (John Mason, M. A.)

The double-minded man

If reason be compared to the helm of a ship, the passions are the sails. It was necessary that we should be impelled to act, as well as that our actions should be duly regulated: and that is the most perfect state of human nature in which the guidance of the enlightened judgment is seconded by a steady and generous ardour. The “double-minded man” may be considered as divided in his judgment, and divided in his inclination. Divided in judgment, having thought, but thought superficially, upon the concurrent evidences of religious truth, “he is carried about with every wind of doctrine.” Hence the light which guides him is not a single and steady, but a wandering and bewildering, light. Divided in inclination, not averse to receive good impressions, yet unapt to retain them. In consequence of these internal changes, the double-minded man is equally changeable in his outward conduct, “unstable in all his ways”; and as the good or evil principle prevails, he is either intent on repairing his faults and advancing towards perfection, or he becomes the slave of his sins, injurious to his fellow creatures and a rebel to his God. Such is the character of “the double-minded man” in the general view.

1. Let us examine it as it appears to others. To the eminently good he is an object of humiliating compassion; to the bad, of derision. Moreover, every change of conduct adds his own testimony to the suffrage of the world, either that his understanding is so weak as to be always wavering between truth and error; or that his resolution is so frail as to fluctuate incessantly between good and evil, clearly discerned and acknowledged by himself to be so. Like a child, playing on the brink of a precipice (overhung with fruits and flowers), now struck with the danger, now tempted by the beauty and the fragrance; trembling, yet lingering, whether he recede from or advance to his destruction; presenting an image of most pitiable imbecility. His mind is torn by struggling passions; his life, a scene of conflict, that one may compare to civil war, in which rival parties, alternately defeated and victorious, inflict and suffer reciprocal calamities; and whichsoever prevails, nothing is to be seen but the burning of towns, the laying waste of provinces, confusion and desolation on every side. Alas, when a man is conscious of breaking through the secret resolutions of his own mind, of violating injunctions to which he has been professing perpetual obedience, renewing transgressions which he has been lamenting in anguish, which will shortly make him abhor himself, which will possibly fill up the measure of his guilt and seal his doom--what a scene of internal misery to be conscious, while knowing his duty, of wanting spirit and resolution to perform it; to possess an understanding, yet violate its best dictates; to have a heart, yet transgress its purest sentiments; to hear the voice of conscience and of God recalling him from ruin, yet finding himself hurried on by the headstrong fury of his passions--what must be the feelings of this man, who has endured so lately the pangs of guilt, who has been in the very crisis of a blessed change, who had begun to taste the sweets of liberty, yet is ensnared again--what must his feelings be while renewing and perpetuating his ignominious bondage!

2. Thus unhappy is the double-minded man in his own eyes: we are now to consider him with respect to his moral worth--his character in the sight of God. It is not a wavering, divided temper and conduct which comes within the line of salvation marked out by the gospel: “If ye continue in My Word” (says Jesus Christ Himself), “then are ye My disciples indeed”; and again, “No man having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” As guilt is the poison of the soul, so repentance is its cure: the double-minded man betakes himself alternately to the poison and to the remedy. If such treatment would be fatal to the bodily constitution, how much more to the constitution of the mind, which, if it do not fix in virtue, must sink into the reverse, while the passions and appetites are rather inflamed than moderated by temporary and ineffectual restraints, and all those finer principles which should hold them in subjection are gradually impaired and become callous by frequent injuries--every virtuous effort grows weaker and weaker, till it yieldsmechanically to every impulse of desire, and the whole mind becomes at length blind to danger, deaf to counsel, and dead to the sense of goodness. In this melancholy state, what hope of moral recovery can remain? Those who have lost sight of reason in the career of passion, or who have even long slumbered in a course of stupid unthinking wickedness, may still be awakened; and strong motives, with the aid of strenuous exertion, may still open some glimmering prospect of recovery. But when reason, conscience, religion, have tried their utmost, but in vain, what more remains to be done? (P. Houghton.)

A double-minded man

The word signifies one that has two souls; and so it may imply--

1. A hypocrite (James 4:8). As Theophrastus saith of the partridges of Paphlagonia, that they had two hearts, so every hypocrite hath two souls. As I remember, I have read of a profane wretch that bragged he had two souls in one body, one for God and the other for anything.

2. It implieth one that is distracted and divided in his thoughts, floating between two different ways and opinions, as if he had two minds or two souls.

3. And, more expressly to the context, it may note those whose minds were tossed to and fro with various and uncertain motions; now lifted up with a billow of presumption, then cast down in a gulf of despair, being divided between hopes and fears concerning their acceptance with God.

1. That unbelieving hypocrites are men of a double mind; they want the conduct of the Spirit, and are led by their own affections, and therefore cannot be settled: fear, the love of the world, carnal hopes and interests, draw them hither and thither, for they have no certain guide and rule. This double mind in carnal men bewrayeth itself two ways--in their hopes and their opinions.

(1) In their hopes they are distracted between expectation and jealousy, doubts and fears; now full of confidence in their prayers, and anon breathing forth nothing but sorrow and despair; and possibly that may be one reason why the Psalmist compareth the wicked to chaff (Psalms 1:4), because they have no firm stay and subsistence, but are driven to and fro by various and uncertain motions, leading their lives by guess, rather than any sure aim.

(2) In their opinions hypocrites usually waver and hang in suspense, being distracted between conscience and carnal affections; their affections carry them to Baal, their consciences to God.

2. That doubtfulness of mind is the cause of uncertainty in our lives and conversation. Their minds are double, and therefore their ways are unstable. For our actions do oft bear the resemblance of our thoughts, and the heart not being fixed, the life is very uncertain. The note holdeth good in two cases.

(1) In fixing the heart in the hopes of the gospel.

(2) In fixing the heart in the doctrine of the gospel; as faith sometimes implieth the doctrine which is believed, sometimes the grace by which we do believe.

A certain expectation of the hopes of the gospel produceth obedience, and a certain belief of the doctrine of the gospel produceth constancy.

1. None walk so evenly with God as they that are assured of the love of God. Faith is the mother of obedience, and sureness of trust maketh way for strictness of life.

2. None are so constant in the profession of any truth as they that are convinced and assured of the grounds of it. (T. Manton.)


WE HAVE TO OBSERVE ON THE MISERABLE DISADVANTAGE, INEFFICIENCY, AND, WE MAY SAY, WORTHLESSNESS, OF SUCH A STATE OF MIND FOR ANYTHING GREAT AND GOOD. “Double-minded,” “unstable in all” things. Now, connect this with the consideration of the feebleness of the human powers at the best. Let those powers be in their best order, and exerted in the most steady, constant, and consistent manner possible, and even then, how slow and toilsome is the progress to any good! The most vigorous have mourned and been mortified, to see how little they had done: the most determined servants of God have confessed that they were “unprofitable servants.” Again, connect the idea of this character with that of the shortness of life; short, in the most protracted instances, shorter still, in the far greater number. And how much of this inevitably consumed in little cares and occupations, and, in many instances, in grievances, pains, and languor! A man deliberating and perplexing and confounding his designs, and life still hastening on; prosecuting a purpose a little while, and then, hesitating, stopping, life still going on! abandoning his design--life all the while passing away’. Think, again, what dishonour and ignominy it is, for a man to be thus, as it were, his own opponent and frustrator. There is enough to obstruct him, from without, were he ever so vigorously prepared for the great operations of duty. But he has within him the causes of defeat. He cannot put in order the active principles and powers within the citadel of his soul, to sally out in force against the external difficulties and opposition. He has there opinion dissenting from opinion, motive disagreeing with motive, passion conflicting with passion, purpose thwarting purpose. But to carry the view outward; this double-minded man, who has no simplicity and unity of purpose, think how unfortunate is his case, on account of the multiplicity of things there will be to distract his purposes, and frustrate his exertions. In this “double” condition of mind he is liable to be arrested by a great number of things on either side.

But we may previously observe that there are very many men exempt from this miserable weakness, BY BEING THE SUBJECTS OF SOMETHING STILL WORSE. There is many a sinner that betrays no double-mindedness. He is actuated wholly, steadily, constantly, by some one predominant evil. The man of all-grasping ambition, the complete sensualist, the insane lover of money. And these, in their way, are most worthy to be held up as examples to those who profess to be, or to wish to be, devoted to better things. “Look at them,” we would say to the unstable, double-minded man--“look at them and be ashamed!” In representing the character of our text, in some of its most usual forms, we may note that there is perhaps some difference between a double-mindedness of variableness, fluctuation, fickleness, and that of inconsistency or self-contradiction. But we would rather direct the attention to that doable-mindedness which endeavours, in the habitual course of life, to combine irreconcilable things. And how many exemplify this in the manner in which their minds are affected between the present and the future! A predominance of regard to the great and endless future is indispensable to the happy order of the human soul. But in some minds this concern rather harasses than predominates--it cannot govern, but will not depart. And as it will not, it is attempted to be brought into some kind of compromise with the prevailing interest about the present objects. There is the warning thought, “These present objects will soon be no longer mine--I must leave them! and what will be the state of my soul elsewhere?” And there is terrible authority in this thought. It forces its demand on the conscience of such a man. There are, therefore, some serious thoughts; some employments of a religious kind; some abstinences and self-denials; some prayers, however constrained. And this miserably embitters the interest of the present and temporal objects. Still the heart cannot, cannot let these objects sink down to the subordinate rank, and admit the predominance of the grand future ones. This miserable double-mindedness distracts the tenor of a man’s life. He goes on hesitating, embarrassed, impeded, and only succeeds in going wrong 1 It is much the same thing, we have said already, when we exemplify the character, denominated in the text, in the case of a man who approves some great, general, good object, but is influenced by a selfish interest against it. This private interest rises up against all his convictions and better wishes and sympathies, and determines him to oppose the thing he pronounces so good. But yet, not without a painful consciousness of inconsistency, which his utmost efforts cannot reconcile, and which gives a wavering “unstable” character to his course of proceeding. See, again, the character in the text exemplified in the case of a man harassed between the dictates of his own judgment and conscience, on the one side, and the consideration of how he will be accounted of in the world, on the other side. The attempted combination of things which cannot truly agree is exemplified in some who wish to carry an appearance and a profession of belonging to the Christians, the people of God, and at the same time are very desirous of being on the most favourable terms with worldly and irreligious society. We will only add to the description one more particular, and that of a doctrinal reference. There seems to be in some persons a “double-minded” apprehension of the meritorious cause of human salvation--a notion of some kind of distributive partition of the merit, between the sinful being himself and Jesus Christ. Now this must produce a painful perplexity and instability in a man’s experience, and in his religious exercises and efforts. For it can never be adjusted, on each side, how much. If the Redeemer will not, of mere free favour, furnish all for justification, where will He stop? If I am to contribute essentially, meritoriously, myself, what will suffice? by what rule is it to be estimated? Unstable, therefore, is such a man in his feelings, in his efforts, in his prayers.

WHAT IS THE REMEDY FOR ALL THIS? The great thing to quell all this mischief and conflict and wretchedness is to have one grand predominant sovereign purpose of life. And what can that be but to live for God and eternity? How gloriously this would crush the hateful strife! and bring us out free, in singleness of spirit, for the enterprise of immortality! The means conducive, under the Divine influence, to the establishment of this great predominant principle and power are most plain and obvious. Let the man who feels the plague of this internal dissension, let him look most deliberately, most resolutely, and, as in the sight of God, at the motives, the objects, the interests, which divide and baffle his spirit; and solemnly decide what it is that deserves to have the ascendency. And what he is losing all the while! losing the labour of his vital powers--spending his strength for nought; losing his time, the inestimable advantages for the attainment of the final good, the present happiness he might be enjoying, the benefits of the Redeemer’s work, the day of grace and salvation. By continuance, too, these worse contesting principles have habit on their side, the most infernal ally of evil principles, an angelic one of the good. And, lastly, as God is, if we may speak so, the supreme unity, simplicity, consistency, stability, in the universe, the soul must have a firm connection with Him, so as to be in a humble sense (what we should not venture to express, if His own Word had not) a “partaker of the Divine nature,” by His Spirit imparted, through the medium of the Redeemer. And then these opposing evil principles and powers in the soul will shrink in the strife, will no longer prevail, though they linger to struggle, will have received the touch of death, and will perish wholly and for ever when the spirit is at last set free from mortality and this infected world. (J. Foster.)

The double-minded man

He is one who is inconstant; he is changeable; he hath a mind to serve God and be saved, but he hath at the same time a mind also to satisfy his lusts; he would be eternally happy in the next world, but he would not quit the sensual pleasures of this; he is godly by fits and by intervals, but he is not so uniformly, and uninterruptedly; his religion hath its flows and its ebbs, its rises and its falls; now it grows, and presently again it decays. To give us a more lively image of this instability, which is the distinguishing mark of a double-minded man, our apostle paints him out to us by a familiar but elegant comparison, “He that wavereth is like to a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed.” The ground of this instability is the diversity of those principles upon which he acts; his heart is not pure and free from mixture, and therefore his actions are thus repugnant. He hath a double mind, and therefore nothing that he doth can be simple and uniform. To remove this inconsistency and incongruity, which there is betwixt what he at several times doth, his heart must be purified from all secular and low aims, and entirely be fixed on the choice of one single end, and steadily apply itself to the use of such means, as all jointly conspire to the attainment of that end. When we make the glory of God and the salvation of our souls our last and chief end; when we form no other designs that come in competition with this; when all our actions are so ordered as to have a proper tendency to this end, and do all agree with each other by agreeing together in this tendency, then have we that purity of heart which our apostle here enjoins. (Bp. Smalridge.)

The folly of double-mindedness

Should we observe a person at the same time taking aim at two different marks placed at a considerable distance, and much more, if they were placed diametrically opposite to one another, we must be more than ordinarily serious if such a sight did not move our spleen and provoke our laughter. And yet every whit as ridiculous is that person who proposes to himself such designs as do plainly interfere with each other. For is it not the height of folly to aim at any end which we are sure never to accomplish? And must not he that pursues opposite ends necessarily fall short of one of them? For will not all those means that contribute to the gaining one, hinder the attainment of the other? If the pleasures of this world are more suited to our natures; if they are more agreeable to our rational faculties; if they are more durable; if they are more perfect whilst they last; let us pursue these steadily, without troubling ourselves for anything beyond them. Let us not rob ourselves of any of the present satisfactions of this life, in expectation of lesser joys at a greater distance. Or if the pleasures of this world, though they do not exceed, yet are truly equal to the pleasures of the next; if, having weighed them together in an even balance, we find that neither of them turns the scale; then let us live at all adventures: where there is no room for preference, let us take either side, as it happens. Let us “set our affections on things above, or on things below”; be godly or profane; sober or intemperate; righteous or unjust; merciful or uncharitable, according as we are in humour. Let us practise some duties to comply with the motions of the Spirit, and commit some sins to gratify the lusts of the flesh; and having no certain haven where we would be, let us suffer our inclinations to run afloat, and to be tossed about to any point of the compass by every blast of wind. But if neither of these be the true state of our case, as, if the Christian religion be true, we are sure neither is; if the advantages and pleasures of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed; nay, farther, if the seeking of the things of this world, either more than the glories of the next, or equally with them, will shut us out of the kingdom of God; and if on the other side, to those who “first seek the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, these things shall be added” over and above; where there is such a vast disparity in the objects, where the dispute lies between the creature and the Creator, between finite and infinite, between momentary and eternal, there to be equally poised between such unequal objects; and, in short, for the want of a uniform pursuit of the better part, to lose both parts, is such a degree of folly as in speculation we could never have believed possible, had not the practice of men showed it to be very common. (Bp. Smalridge.)

The uneasiness of double-mindedness

When a mariner hath determined within himself what port to make to, and is secure that he is in the direct way which will bring him to that port, whatever ill accidents he meet with in his passage are in some measure made tolerable by the prospect he hath of arriving at the desired haven at last; but when he is tossed by contrary winds from one point to the other; when, in the words of the Psalmist, “he reels to and fro, and staggers like a drunken man, and is at his wits’ end,” because he knows not which way to steer his course, then must his soul needs be melted within him because of trouble. Now this is the unpleasant condition of a double-minded person: he is tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind. Sometimes the pleasures of this world appear amiable in his eyes, and he pursues them with great eagerness of soul; but these have nothing in them which will satisfy his desires; these either flying from him whilst he follows them, or vanishing away in the fruition; he hopes to find more solid contentment of mind in the practise of virtue and the duties of religion; but having not a true relish for these more refined pleasures, finding some hardships in his first entrance upon a holy life, and wanting resolution of mind to overcome them by patience, he quickly relapses into) his former wicked courses, and tries again the more beaten paths of vice; but still he is as far removed as ever he was from the attainment of true happiness, because he does not move towards it in a direct line, but, by going sometimes forwards and sometimes backwards, is at an equal distance from his journey’s end, after all his wearisome travel and pains, as he was when he at first set out. The heavenly minded person who pursues the paths of virtue with an even course finds in himself a fund of joy which is never to be exhausted, a spring of comfort and delight which never fails him (Psalms 16:5). On the other side, the carnal-minded person who is uniform and consistent with himself in a constant course of sin; who hath got the conquest over his conscience, and is deaf to its loudest cries; who, finding the fetters of religion too burdensome, hath taken care to break these bonds asunder, and to cast away these cords from him, hath his share of pleasures, which he freely enjoys, without abatement or control. The double-minded person who pretends to be sometimes spiritual, and who at other times is carnal; who shares his affections betwixt the Creator and the creature; who sometimes obeys the laws of God to comply with the dictates of his conscience, and at other times disobeys God’s laws to gratify his sensual appetite, may perhaps propose to himself a double share of pleasure; and all that happiness which the spiritual and carnal person do separately divide between them, he may fondly hope to join together in one, and to enjoy at once. But whilst he aims at too much, he is in danger to lose all; whilst he claims more happiness than comes to his share, he forfeits what otherwise he might have fairly enjoyed; and, instead of uniting in one the different pleasures of a sensual and spiritual life, he will find by experience that he truly tastes neither. For the pleasures of sin are embittered by the remorses of conscience, whose checks he is not able wholly to silence; and, on the other side, that satisfaction of mind which he should reap from the consciousness of having done some things well is impaired by the sense of guilt which arises from his having done other things which he knows to be evil. There are several forbidden pleasures which a profligate, dissolute thorough-paced sinner, who hath no sense of shame, no fear of God, no strugglings of conscience to restrain him, doth without control freely indulge himself in; and these make up a great part of that happiness which he pitches upon as his portion. But the double-minded person who proposes to himself different ends, and pursues different courses, though he sometimes transgresses the lines of duty, dares not go great lengths in vice; he hath not so far got the mastery over his conscience but that there are several kinds and instances of sin at which he presently starts back and recoils; he is for keeping up an interest with two opposite parties, God and the world; and therefore is careful not to serve either, so far as to make the breach with the other utterly irreconcilable; and thus, for want of a perfect and uniform obedience, he loses those pleasures which the saints of God find in a religious life; and at the same time, for want of being thoroughly wicked, he debars himself from several sorts and degrees of pleasure which profligate sinners take very frequent and very large draughts of. And as through the restraint of conscience he dares not allow himself in several pleasures which notorious sinners liberally taste of, so in those which, through the prevalence of his lusts, he gives way to, he finds not all that relish which they do. For though he is so far wicked as not to resist a temptation when it is offered; yet he cloth not so much as the other entertain himself with the prospect of criminal pleasure before be enjoys it; his soul is not so wholly swallowed up with it whilst he enjoys it; and he doth not with so much contentment call it back and dwell upon it in his memory, and act it over again in his imagination after he has enjoyed it. (Bp. Smalridge.)

The sinfulness of double-mindedness

IT IS CONTRARY TO THAT LOVE OF GOD WHICH THE GOSPEL EXPRESSLY REQUIRES (Matthew 22:35). Now, if the steadiness of our obedience depends upon the sincerity of our love of God; if nothing can seduce them from their duty, whose hearts are truly possessed with an ardent love of God; then will it follow, on the other side, that those whose obedience is partial and interrupted, who advance some steps in the paths of virtue, and after that depart back into sinful courses, are destitute of that superlative love of God which is the very basis of all religion, and the first and chief condition of our eternal salvation.

IT IS INCONSISTENT WITH THAT PERFECTION WHICH IS ANOTHER CONDITION OF THE GOSPEL COVENANT. Absolute perfection is not to be attained, and therefore repentance comes in to supply the want of it; but a sincere endeavour after perfection is possible; and he who sins with a resolution to repent is not sure that God will give him grace to repent in time of need. Now, if an endeavour after perfection, if doing the utmost we can do in “all things to keep a conscience void of offence,” is confessed on all hands to be the least that can be meant by that perfection which is the condition of our salvation, then must double-minded persons be in a very dangerous state who cannot pretend that they perform this condition. For can that person be said to use his utmost endeavours to be perfect who, though he resists some temptations, yet not only yields to but even invites others? Doth he do all he can do to approve himself to God who doth as many actions, which he knows to be displeasing to God, as he doth actions acceptable? Can he be thought in earnest to press forwards towards the mark whose retreats are equal to his advances? who is always in motion, but rids no ground; and who, after some years spent in a course of religion, is got no farther than when he at first set out? As well may he be thought a perfect scholar who, in that part of learning he professes, is ignorant of as many things as he knows; or that be deemed a perfect animal which, of those limbs it should have, wants as many as it hath, or which is destitute of as many organs of sense as it enjoys.

IT IS INCONSISTENT WITH THAT SINCERE FAITH UPON THE OBSERVANCE OF WHICH ON OUR PART WE EXPECT SALVATION, “if we examine the faith of a double-minded person, if we try it by its works, we shall not find it thus general and impartial. He finds gracious promises the gospel annexed to the performance of some duties, and these he pretends to discharge on purpose that he may inherit those precious promises; but he finds also severe threats denounced against some sins; and, notwithstanding these threats, he goes on in a constant habitual commission of them. Now, how is his performance of these duties a better proof that he heartily believes those promises than his voluntary transgressions are, that in his heart he disbelieves those threats? (Bp. Smalridge.)

Instability of the double-souled

A two-souled man is unsettled; “unstable in all ways.” His opinions are fluctuating; and so are his sentiments. Sometimes he is repenting of his sins, and sometimes he is repenting of his repentance. Sometimes the importance of the future overwhelms him, and sometimes he feels theft nothing is worth thinking of but the present. Such instability of sentiment must unsettle the believer. The man is sometimes as serene as a May morning, and sometimes as sweeping as a cyclone. You can never know how he will receive you, or how he will behave under certain circumstances. His instability imparts its changefulness to his countenance; while he is looking one way, his soul has gone another. His speech is ambiguous, his tone of voice wavering, his utterance now very rapid and now very slow. Sometimes he answers offhand and without reflection, and then he requires so much time to consider that the opportunity for speech has passed. He is untrustworthy in every department of life. That man cannot receive anything of the Lord. He cannot hold his hand long enough to have anything placed therein. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

Verses 9-11

James 1:9-11

Let the brother of low degree rejoice

Humiliation and exaltation


“LET THE BROTHER OF LOW DEGREE REJOICE IN THAT HE IS EXALTED.” When called to rejoice we expect a reason. Good cause may exist for joy; but unless we know it we cannot be affected by it. But in the injunction before us there is no want of true sympathy. A reason is assigned, “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted.” The first thing here to be noticed is, that the humiliation and the exaltation cannot be of the same description. The one is temporal, the other spiritual--temporal depression, spiritual elevation. Their abasement as the children of earth and mortality is set in contrast with their exaltation as the children of God, and heaven, and eternity.

1. The poor of Christ’s people are “exalted” as to birth. The poorest believer is a child of God, by the redeeming purchase of Christ’s blood, and the regenerating power of His Spirit.

2. He is exalted as to character. This is inseparably associated with the former dignity. That birth itself is a change of character. It is a birth into a new life: a life of new principles, affections, desires, and a new course of conduct; and it is true “exaltation”--from the debasement of sin to the beauty of holiness--from the image of Satan to the image of God.

3. “The brother of low degree is exalted” in regard to his society. The poor Christian frequents no palaces; graces no parties of aristocratic fashion. But he has society which “the world knoweth not of”; society far higher than the highest to which this world, in its best estate, could introduce him. It is a society, indeed, which the world does not acknowledge, but it is honoured of God. They are “the excellent of the earth, in whom is all His delight”; and of whom He hath said, “I will dwell among them, and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

4. “The brother of low degree is exalted” in power; in dominion; in honour. It is a spiritual power; not a power of spiritual oppression, but of self-subjugation and self-control; and the power that proves victorious over the mightiest of the enemies of mankind--“the world, the flesh, and the devil.”

5. “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted” in riches. The poorest believer is rich--rich in the present possession of “all spiritual blessings, in heavenly places, in Christ Jesus”; rich in the future hope of the” inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away”; and, in one all-comprehensive word, rich in having “God Himself as the portion of his inheritance and cup.”

6. “The brother of low degree may rejoice in being exalted,” when he surveys his prospects. These are transcendently glorious. They surpass all our feeble conceptions.

Pass we now to the CONTRAST. It is contrast only as to this world and to time; for the spiritual blessings and hopes of poor and rich in the Church of God are the same: “But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away” (James 1:10). Now, according to the testimony of the Bible--confirmed by a sad amount of experience--riches, operating upon the corruption of the human heart, are ever apt to produce in their possessor the spirit of pride and vanity; of self-confidence and self-elation. Even when the tendency does not, in any remarkable degree, manifest itself in the behaviour and bearing of the rich toward their fellow-men, it appears in a spirit of independence--of “trust in their wealth, and boasting themselves of the multitude of their riches,” and of a forgetfulness of God. Instead of being led by the gifts to the Giver, they forget the Giver in the gifts; and, in the use of them, place self before God. If such be the strength of this tendency, has not the Christian whom God, in His providence, has blessed with a large amount of this world’s good cause to be thankful when in spite of it he has, by the influence of the Divine Spirit, been “made low”? when, by that Divine influence, he has been made an exception to the atheistical tendencies of his riches, and kept in the spirit of humility and in the spiritual-mindedness of devotion to God?

The “lowliness” here made the ground of grateful joy consists essentially in two things, which ever accompany each other, and in their elementary nature may be regarded as one--namely, a sense of entire dependence on the God of providence for every temporal good, and a sense of equal dependence on the God of grace for all spiritual and eternal blessings.

Notice now the GROUNDS on which “the rich” brother is called to rejoice in his being “made low.” They are such as these--

1. The transitory nature of all the riches and honours of this world. Had the rich man not been “made low,” he might have drawn upon himself the temporary admiration of his fellow-men; and that would have been all: he should have “passed away, and been no more seen”; all his honours dying with him. He would thus, like other rich men, have “had his portion in this life”--a pitiful portion for an immortal creature!--and then have gone destitute into another world. Well for him, then, that he has been “made low,” for--

2. By this he has been brought into possession even here of better blessings than the world can furnish. His very humility is, as a creature and a sinner, his true honour; as it is the honour of the first archangel before the throne. In that humility, too, Jehovah has complacency. He obtains the smile and the blessing of Jehovah, and all the present joy, and all the soul-satisfying hope which that smile and that blessing impart. Which leads me to notice--

3. That the rich man who is thus “made low,” besides true honour and blessing from God in this world, becomes an heir of a richer heritage than any which he could ever attain to here, where all is corruptible and fading. It is by his having been “made low” that he has been ‘, made meet to be a partaker of that inheritance.” But for this he might have continued to enjoy his earthly riches and honours--“clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day “-but he must have forfeited the inheritance above--“the better country, even the heavenly.” (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Poor and rich believers


1. Poor Christians. He calls the party addressed a “brother,” that is obviously a brother in the faith of the gospel, a member of the same spiritual family. It was thus Christians then spoke of, and to each other. They realised the endearing relationship which subsisted between them--a bond not of a merely figurative or formal nature, but most intimate. He is not simply a brother, but one “of low degree”--that is, in humble circumstances. James had called on them generally, irrespective of any distinctions among them, to count it joy when they fell into divers temptations, and now he specially presses this on the class here addressed. The brother of low degree, without wealth, without rank, without influence, without any of the coveted possessions or advantages of earth, is exhorted to exult.

2. Rich believers. Here he says simply, “the rich,” and as the other party was the man poor temporally, so this doubtless, and still more evidently, is the man rich temporally. And the person thus singled out represents not this class of people generally, but those of them who belong to the household of faith. It is still a “brother” whom he addresses. Both had reason to rejoice, notwithstanding the wide separation between them in all outward respects. The lowest and the, highest alike had matter of exultation. The gospel placed them on the same platform of spiritual privilege. In Jesus all classes meet add have a common heritage of blessing.


1. In the case of the poor brother, it is his exaltation. He is to rise above his outward poverty and the depression connected with it, and to glory in the elevation to which he has been raised, the treasures of which he has become possessed, as one of God’s people. Taken from the dunghill, he sits among the princes; and, high as he is already, he is advancing towards a height of glory, transcending not only his attainments, but even his conceptions. He is the heir of a portion, in comparison with which all the estates and dignities of earth are not worthy to be named. Well may the poor man lose sight of his low degree, rise far above all its privations, and exult in his being thus spiritually exalted. So far we have viewed the exhortation generally; but doubtless it carries a special reference to the temptations treated of both in the preceding and succeeding verses. The exaltation was closely connected with them; it resulted in no small degree from the suffering they involved. Such dispensations seem fitted only to reduce to a low degree. But they do the very reverse. They cast down, but they also raise up; they empty, but only in order to fill us with something far better. If they abase with one hand, they elevate with the other. For consider how they link us with, and assimilate us to the Lord Jesus. These trials purify and ennoble the character. Even Jesus was thus perfected.

2. In the case of the rich brother, it is his humiliation. “But the rich, in that he is made low.” The Christian is net to glory in his worldly elevation. That had been forbidden long before (Jeremiah 9:23). It is not his being lifted high, but his being brought down, which is to constitute his ground of boasting. As the poor believer was to rejoice in his exaltation, the wealthy one is to rejoice in his humiliation. As the former of these terms must be understood spiritually, so must the latter; for it is only thus there can be a proper contrast, as is evidently intended. The natural tendency of wealth is to fill Inert with pride, self-confidence, vainglory. There is no more formidable barrier in the way of that poverty of spirit which is a fundamental characteristic of all Christ’s disciples. When, then, the affluent are delivered from this snare; when they are enabled to see the emptiness of all their treasures, and the danger which the possession of them involves; when they are made willing to take their places in the dust as sinners--to abase themselves before God, and walk without high looks and haughty bearing among men--they have good reason to rejoice, exult, glory. In this humiliation lies their defence against evils of terrible power and endless duration. This being made low is, not less than the other, the fruit of temptations and trials. These are often the means of bringing down those whose looks are high, and laying them in the dust of selfabasement. It is thus that many enter the kingdom. God employs painful dispensations of providence to awaken them out of their security, and to prepare them for submission to the doctrines of the gospel. James enforces the exhortation by the consideration that earthly riches are perishable, transitory in their nature, and that all who trust in them, identify themselves with them, are doomed to speedy destruction. (John Adam.)

Christian brotherhood


1. Circumstances are no test of character.

2. Christians should be contented with their lot.

3. There are opportunities for the exercise of brotherly benevolence.


1. Not in external circumstances.

2. In spiritual triumph over circumstances. (U. R. Thomas.)

Discipline of change

CHANGE IS NEEDFUL FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE NOBLER FACULTIES OF MAN’S NATURE. It keeps alive those faculties of mind and heart that are already active; rouses into activity those that are lying dormant; and hinders us from falling into mere routine and mental and moral barrenness.

CHANCE IS NEEDFUL TO KEEP US FROM FORGETTING GOD AND RELAPSING INTO CALLOUS SELF-CONFIDENCE. There is a painful truth in what David says--in our prosperity we think we shall never be moved. And we become self-indulgent, self-sufficient, and forgetful of God, and are only reminded of our duty to Him, and our dependence upon Him, when He hides His face, and breaks in upon our prosperity; when storm waves threaten to engulf us, we cry, “Lord, save, or I perish.”

CHANGES ARE NEEDFUL FOR THE FOSTERING OF SPIRITUAL LIFE AND GROWTH. If there are no changes in our religious life, or in the discharge of our religious duties, religion not infrequently relapses into mere formalism, machine work. To prevent this, and to rouse the soul to greater activity, God sends us changes. He stops the orderly machine--throws it out of gear, compels us to pause awhile and examine the various parts, and adjust them and start afresh.

CHANGES ARE NEEDFUL TO SLACKEN OUR HOLD ON EARTH, AND STRENGTHEN OUR HOLD ON HEAVEN. By a thousand alternating lights and shades the mind has forced upon it the fact of the instability of terrestrial things, and the folly of setting our affections too firmly upon them; while at the same time, it is made to feel the need of some centre of stability where change is not, some rock of strength on which it may build without fear of coming storms. (W. Fox.)

Grave reverses a decisive test of character

Read fairly the words of St. James cannot fail to carry this plain sense to our minds: that the Christian brother who is poor in this world’s goods is to be glad when he gets rich in this world’s goods; and that the Christian brother who is rich in these goods is to be glad when God takes them away from him, since God will only take them away when it is for his good. And if we sincerely believe, as we profess to believe, spiritual good to be better than temporal good, and spiritual wealth to be far more precious than temporal wealth, I am persuaded that we should never think of taking these words in any other sense. For St. James is the most prosaic, the least mystical, of the New Testament writers. It is almost impossible to misunderstand him except by thrusting meanings into his words which never entered into his mind. But the verses do not stand alone. They are intimately connected both with the verses which go before and the verses which follow them. Directly he has uttered his opening salutation, the apostle strikes his key-note. In the salutation he had wished the Christians of the Hebrew dispersion joy--“Joy to you.” But what a wish was that for men whom their heathen neighbours hated because they were Jews, and their Jewish neighbour hated because they were Christians! How could men so miserable hope for joy? St. James teaches them: “Count it all joy,” &c. But what was this strange art of extracting joy from sorrow, honour from shame, gain from loss? St. James teaches them this also. Trials beget that patient and constant temper which makes a man mature, complete in character, so that he lacks nothing. If, then, they made perfection of Christian character their first aim, preferring it before all happy outward conditions, they would rejoice in any change of condition which put their character to the test and helped to make it perfect. So that these verses, taken quite literally, fall in with the whole scope of the apostle’s argument. With that argument in view it becomes impossible to take them in any other than this plain sense. The poor man is to be glad when he is tried by riches, remembering, however, that for him they are a trial; and the rich man is to be glad when he is tried by poverty, and to take comfort in the conviction that it is a trial by which God is seeking to make a man of him, rounded and complete in character, lacking nothing that he ought to have. The ruling thought of these verses is, then, that great reverses of fortune are a test of Christian character, and a means of Christian perfection; and that we ought not simply to bear them patiently, but to rejoice in them because they so test our character as to mature and perfect it. Yet no one will deny that the reverses by which such a character is formed are very searching trials, very hard to meet in a manly, still harder to meet in a Christian, spirit. When you see a poor good man suddenly made rich, are you not a little afraid for him, though, perhaps, in the same circumstances, you would have no fear for yourself? Do you not fear that he may lose in humility, in sobriety, in spirituality; that he will pamper his senses with unaccustomed luxuries; that his devotion to Christ and the Church may grow weaker? On the other hand, when you see a “rich brother,” who has been successful in business, and for many years has lived in luxury and ease, suddenly reduced to comparative penury: if he has to “begin life again” when the strength and sanguine hopefulness of youth are past, do you not fear for him? Do you not fear that his piety may prove to have been a mere adjunct of his prosperity; that his patience may fail him; that he may grow sour, irritable, suspicious; that he may fail to get any good from the evil which has befallen him; that he may confound misfortune with disgrace, lose his self-respect, and conclude that he has forfeited the respect of men because it has pleased God to bring him low? The shoe does not always pinch where our neighbours think it does. The most searching test in these great reverses is often, not in their direct, but in their indirect, consequences. A man, without being a hero, may have so much of goodness and of good sense as that a sudden access of fortune would make little difference to him, none in him, if he stood alone in the world: and yet it may pierce him and try him to the heart because others share it with him. He may have a vulgar wife, fond of show, or children who will give themselves airs, or friends who flatter him, or servants whose solemn, formal deference gives him a sense of importance; and by all these indirect influences his own standard of thought and duty may be insensibly changed and lowered. And the other man, the rich man who has been smitten with poverty, may be affected in a similar manner. To a sensible good man outward changes are of little moment save as they affect character and usefulness. How many a good fellow have we all known to whom the hard work and comparative penury of a reduced income has been a positive relief, and who would have snapped his fingers at “Fortune and her wheel” had he had no one to care for but himself, or had those for whom he was bound to care been likeminded with himself! But if he has a wife who frets or storms, or children who sulk or wrangle; if those immediately dependent upon him are too “stuck up” to work for their bread, and yet cannot eat their bread without a good deal of the best butter--then his trial may become very penetrating and severe. Are we to rejoice in such trials as these? Yes, even in these; for these, too, test our character and may help to make us perfect. St. James, indeed, speaks only of poverty and riches; but of course he includes under these terms whatever other changes or reverses they involve. And if a man finds his kind, pleasant wife changed into a “fine lady” by prosperity, or into a shrew by adversity; if a woman finds her once kind and manly husband turned into a fretful poltroon by misfortune, or into a lazy sensualist by wealth, these sorrowful changes are part of the reverses which have come upon them; they are among the consequences of having been “lifted up” or “brought low”; and in these also the apostle bids us rejoice. Before we can honestly give, or take, the apostle’s comfort, we must occupy his position, we must hold his convictions, we must rise to the full stature of men in Christ Jesus. St. James held that this world would soon pass away, and that we should still sooner pass out of it; but that there is another world in which we shall live for ever, and in which our conditions will be shaped by our character. In his view, therefore, the chief aim of every man was, or should be, to form in himself a character which would best fit him both for the life that now is, and for that which is to come. It mattered very little whether he was rich or poor in things which he must soon leave behind him: what did matter was that by the enjoyment or by the loss of these things he should be qualifying himself for, should be laying hold of, the life which is eternal. Whatever changes, whatever reverses, contributed to elevate, purify, complete the power and quality of his life, and stamp on it the characters of immortality, should therefore be welcome to him. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Human exaltation and humiliation

CHRISTIANITY TEACHES THAT MAN, HOWEVER LOW IN DEGREE, IS MAN STILL. The millions are not aware of the greatness of their nature. Spite of the fall, man still possesses intelligence, conscience, moral sensibility, and power to will. Redemption comes to him as an angel of light, and proposes to take the wanderer by the hand, and conduct him to the great Father--to glory and perfection.

CHRISTIANITY TEACHES THAT MAN, HOWEVER EXALTED IN POSITION, IS BUT MAN. It is as great an error in the rich to think too highly of themselves as it is for the poor to think too meanly of themselves. The spirit of many is, that pence make shillings, shillings make pounds, and pounds make men. How common, but how erroneous this! Christianity gives us the true idea of humanity. Only let its light enter the mind--then the poor, the degraded, the rude barbarian, the privileged Jew, the philosophic Greek, and the cultivated European, will feel that they are men, and but men. The one is exalted, the Other is made low.

CHRISTIANITY TEACHES THAT ALL MEN, INDEPENDENT OF CIRCUMSTANCES, ARE EQUAL. The brother of low degree and the rich are one in everything which constitutes man.

1. Physically (Genesis 3:20; Genesis 10:32; Acts 17:26).

2. Morally. Our common depravity proves the oneness of the race.


1. Riches are not of human, but of Divine disposal.

2. Riches and poverty are no proof of Divine pleasure and displeasure.

3. The only test of Divine approval or disapproval is moral character.

CHRISTIANITY TEACHES THAT THE EXALTATION OF THE POOR AND THE HUMILIATION OF THE RICH ARE SOURCES OF REJOICING. They now see their nature in the light of Christianity. Their errors are corrected; they now think of themselves as they ought to think; they now behold their equality with each other. Between them there is no feeling of superiority and inferiority. They rejoice in their common brotherhood and oneness. (J. Briggs.)

The true Christian temper

1. The people of God are brethren. They are begotten by the same Spirit, by the same immortal seed of the Word. They have many engagements upon them to all social and brotherly affection. Ah! then live and love as brethren. Averseness of heart and carriage will not stand with this sweet relation.

2. He saith “of low degree,” and yet “brother.” Meanness doth not take away Church relations. Christian respects are not to be measured by these outward things; a man is not to be measured by them, therefore certainly not a Christian. We choose a horse by his strength and swiftness, not the gaudiness of his trappings; that which Christians should look at is not these outward additaments, but the eminency of grace (James 2:1).

3. Not a” man” of low degree, but a “brother.” It is not poverty, but poor Christianity that occasioneth joy and comfort.

4. From the word τάπεινος--it signifieth both humble, and of low degree--observe, that the meanest have the greatest reason to be humble; their condition always maketh the grace in season--poverty and pride are most unsuitable. It was one of Solomon’s odd sights, to see “servants on horseback, and princes going on foot” (Ecclesiastes 10:7). A poor proud man is a prodigy of pride; he hath less temptation to be proud, he hath more reason to be humble.

5. God may set His people in the lowest rank of men. A brother may be τάπεινος, base and abject, in regard of his outward condition. “The Captain of salvation,” the Son of God Himself, was “despised and rejected of men” (Isaiah 53:3); in the original, “the leaving-off of men”; implying that He appeared in such a form and rank that He could scarce be said to be man, but as if He were to be reckoned among some baser kind of creatures; as Psalms 22:6.

6. From that “let the brother of low degree glory.” That the most abject condition will not excuse us from murmuring: “though you be abase, yet you may rejoice and glory in the Lord. A man cannot sink so low as to be past the help of spiritual comforts. Though the worst thing were happened to you, poverty, loss of goods, exile, yet in all this there is no ground of impatience: the brother of low degree may pitch upon something in which he may glory. Well, then, do not excuse passion by misery, and blame your condition when you should blame yourselves: it is not your misery, but your passions, that occasion sin; wormwood is not poison.

7. From that rejoice, or glory, or boast. There is a concession of some kind of boasting to a Christian: he may glory in his privileges. To state this matter, I shall show you--

(1) How he may not boast.

(a) Not to set off self, self-worth, self-merits; so the apostle’s reproof is just (1 Corinthians 4:7).

(b) Not to vaunt it over others (Isaiah 65:5).

(2) How he may boast.

(a) If it he for the glory of God, to exalt God, not ourselves (Psalms 34:2).

(b) To set out the worth of your privileges (Romans 5:3).

8. From that “he is exalted.” That grace is a preferment and exaltation; even those of low degree may be thus exalted. All the comforts of Christianity are such as are riddles and contradictions to the flesh: poverty is preferment; servants are freemen, the Lord’s freemen (1 Corinthians 7:22). The privileges of Christianity take off all the ignominy of the world.

9. The greatest abasures and sufferings for Christ are an honour to us Acts 5:41). (T. Manrope.)

Rejoicing in God

If any object here that St. James willeth the brother of low degree to rejoice when he is exalted, and the rich man when he is made low, which seemeth contrary to other Scriptures, where we are exhorted to rejoice only in God, as Jeremiah 9:23-24; Philippians 4:4, hereunto the answer is easy. First, if we acknowledge whatsoever happeneth unto us to be from God, who both casteth down and lifteth up, then either in our low degree being exalted, or in our riches being humbled, to rejoice is to rejoice in that God sendeth, and so to rejoice in the Lord. Secondly, if again we look into our own wretched condition, who of ourselves have nothing, but whatsoever we have we have received it, then in the things which we have received moderately to rejoice is also to rejoice in the Lord, who is the Fountain of all graces and blessings. Finally, if we hold this as a ground and foundation that all good gifts flowing unto man grow of His mere favour and mercy, and not from any merit or desert of ours, then in the good blessings of God, of exaltation, advancement, glory, or other whatsoever, to rejoice is godly, Christian, and dutiful; and thus men rejoicing rejoice in the Lord. The Apostle James, then, in exhorting the brother of low degree to rejoice when he is exalted, and the rich in like manner when he is made low, is in all points answerable unto other Scriptures, wherein we are required to rejoice in the Lord, for thus for God’s sake, and in obedience of His commandments to rejoice, is to rejoice in the Lord also. (R. Turnbull.)

Chastening and reward

In the Old Testament worldly wealth is set forth as the reward of righteousness; in the New Testament poverty is commended and riches contemned. When mankind were in their infancy God rewarded them as infants; but on their attaining to years of discretion He sets before them worthier treasures than those things that perish in the using. When, therefore, Christians look on wealth as the reward of righteousness, they are as grown-up sons mistaking nursery toys for their inheritance. God has, as it were, opened our nursery door, and shown to us the splendid domain to which we are heirs, and bus bid us go forth and fit ourselves for the larger life. When, then, He puts away our toys, and sends us to school to learn the duties of the life before us, shall we, as silly children, sit down and cry over our banished plaything rather than submit to the discipline wherein we may learn how to acquit ourselves as men? Do we wish to go into the next stage of being mere milksops, having all to learn which we ought to have learned here? Earthly wealth is a thing of sight, and just in so far as it is loved and leaned on is it a hindrance to the development of faith. If we have grown accustomed to measure life’s enjoyment and life’s success by the money we possess, shall we notbe at a great disadvantage when we enter a sphere where money is unknown? Christians have been so swept along by the rush of the world after pleasures that wealth procures, that they are little aware of their unfitness for higher joys. (The Christian World Pulpit.)

Exaltation and humiliation

What is the meaning of the “high estate” (ὕψος) in which the brother of low degree is to glory, and of the “being made low” (ταπείυωσις), in which the rich man is to do the same? At first sight one is disposed to say that the one is the heavenly birthright, and the other the Divine humiliation, in which every one shares who becomes a member of Christ; in fact, that they are the same thing looked at from different points of view; for what to the Christian is promotion, to the world seems degradation. If this were correct, then we should have an antithesis analogous to that in 1 Corinthians 7:22. But on further consideration this attractive explanation is found not to suit the context. What analogy is there between the humiliation in which every Christian glories in Christ and the withering of herbage under a scorching wind? Even if we could allow that this metaphor refers to the fugitive character of earthly possessions, what has that to do with Christian humiliation, which does not depend upon either the presence or the absence of wealth? Moreover, St. James says nothing about the fugitiveness of riches: it is the rich man himself, and not his wealth, that is said to “pass away,” and to “fade away in his goings.” It is a baseless assumption to suppose that the rich man here spoken of is a Christian at all. “The brother of low degree” is contrasted, not with the brother who is rich, but with the rich man, whose miserable destiny shows that he is not “a brother,” i.e., not a believer. The latter is the wealthy Jew who rejects Christ. Throughout this Epistle James 2:6-7; James 5:1-6) “rich” is a term of reproach. This is what is meant by the Ebionite tone of the Epistle; for poverty is the condition which Ebionism delights to honour. In this St. James seems to be reproducing the thoughts both of Jesus Christ and of Jesus the son of Sirach (Luke 6:25-26; cf. Matthew 19:23-25; Sir 13:3; Sir 13:20). But when we have arrived at the conclusion that the “being made low” does not refer to the humiliation of the Christian, and that the rich man here threatened with a miserable end is not a believer, a new difficulty arises. What is the meaning of the wealthy unbeliever being told to glory in the degradation which is to prove so calamitous to him? In the exhortation to the rich man St. James speaks in severe irony: “Let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate; and the rich man--what is he to glory in?--let him glory in the only thing upon which he can count with certainty, viz., his being brought low; because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.” Whether or no this interpretation be accepted it must be clearly borne in mind that no explanation can be correct which does not preserve the connection between the humiliation of the rich man and his passing away as the flower of the grass. This fading away is his humiliation, is the thing in which he is to glory, if he glories in anything at all. The inexorable “because “must not be ignored or explained away by making the wealth of the rich man shrivel up, when St. James twice over says that it is the rich man himself who fades away. (A. Plummer, D. D.)

The gospel exalting the humble Christian and abasing the rich


1. The poor Christian is here called a “brother”: and this title at once marks his real dignity. He has been adopted into the family of Heaven. He is a child of God, a brother of Christ, an heir of glory.

2. It is not only by the nobleness of their future and eternal prospects that the gospel “exalts” the poor: it equally exalts them as to their present condition and enjoyments. See how it raises them above all those little envyings and grudgings which are too often found in their station of life. It sets before them “the true riches,” and thus makes them indifferent about the things of this present evil world.

3. It exalts them above many of the cares of life. While others are “running here and there for meat,” etc.

incessantly crying, “Who will show us any good?” and suffering from continual fears of not being provided for--the Christian looks up to that bountiful Hand which has never failed him yet, and which, he knows, never will.

4. The gospel exalts “the brother of low degree,” even in his mind and ideas. Worldly learning has indeed its use; and it is a gift of God, for which those who possess it should be thankful; yet is it good for nothing to the owner, if he be at the same time destitute of that “wisdom which cometh from above.” It is recorded of a certain great scholar that he exclaimed on his deathbed, “Alas! I have wasted my life in laborious trifling.”

5. We might proceed to show, in several other instances, how the gospel, when received into the heart, improves and exalts the poor of this world--how it creates in them habits of industry, cleanliness, regularity, temperance, domestic affection, liberality, brotherly kindness, and every social virtue.


1. Riches themselves are a dreadful clog upon the soul.

2. It is not riches alone that are hurtful to the soul; it is what accompanies wealth, or the higher stations of life, that is so dangerous.

3. Look, again, at the mode of life which prevails among the better classes of society, and there see what dangers surround them on every side. The leisure which the better classes enjoy gives the tempter many a fatal opportunity against them. This leisure must be filled up: for the human mind has an insatiable appetite; and while Satan does everything in his power to keep it from its proper nourishment, “the bread of life,” he always takes care, in the meanwhile, to supply it abundantly with the poisonous husks of worldly pleasure-in the shape of trifling and seductive books, fashionable parties, public amusements, &c.

If, therefore, at any time the grace of God touches the heart of one who is surrounded by these temptations--humbling him in true repentance, and bringing him to a genuine and active faith in Christ--how clearly do we then perceive the motive for the apostle’s exhortation.

1. Let him “rejoice that he is made low” in the spirit of his mind, and in his estimate of his own state and character.

2. In his estimate of the world, and his expectations from 2:3. Should God lay His chastening hand heavily upon the rich brother--to reduce him from affluence to poverty--to bereave him of the dear objects of his affection--to visit him with bodily pain and sickness--or even to bring upon him all these calamities together; yet, even then, he would have cause to rejoice--yes, “to rejoice in that he is” thus “made low”; for affliction is the peculiar mark of the Lord’s children; and sanctified affliction is one of the best and most profitable gifts His fatherly wisdom ever bestows on them. (W. Hancock, B. D.)

The rich in that he is made low

The rich brother

WEALTH IS COMPATIBLE WITH PERSONAL RELIGION. Some, in successive ages of the world, have been arrested by Divine grace amidst the splendour of high estate, and, feeling that these are but a paltry portion for a spirit fallen by sin and doomed to immortality, have sought a richer boon--a nobler birthright. Many, too, who were brought to Christ when moving in a humble sphere have, by diligence, honesty, and temperance, become the possessors of a considerable amount of worldly riches. And fearful though it be for a man to be rich before he is converted, and necessary as vigilance ever is, as to others, so not least to the rich believer, piety may flourish as truly in the sumptuous hall as at the cottage-hearth.

THE RICH BROTHER IS LOWLY. He knows the grandeur and purity of God, and he knows the weakness and corruption of his own soul. He feels how unsatisfactory earthly possessions are. He realises that decisive event which is sure to scatter man’s accumulated treasures to the winds, and to lay all earthly honours in the dust. And as for the faith which brought peace and safety to his soul, and the piety that holds its dwelling in his heart, he is ready to exclaim (1 Corinthians 15:10).

THE RICH BROTHER IS HERE CALLED TO TRIUMPH IN HIS LOWLINESS. Christian humility, on the part of the wealthy believer, is a favourable symptom of his state. It is, according to an oft-repeated principle of Scripture, a prelude of future advancement in the scale of dignity and blessedness. It is an important qualification for a considerate distribution of wealth among the destitute. And finally, it is what the unsatisfactoriness, and transitoriness of earthly riches, and the weakness, as well as sinfulness, of their possessor, may well inspire. (A. S. Patterson, D. D.)


1. Riches are not altogether inconsistent with Christianity. Usually they are a great snare. The moon never suffers eclipse but when it is at the full; and usually in our fulness we miscarry (Matthew 19:24). Plato, a heathen, saith the same almost with Christ, that it is impossible for a man to be eminently rich and eminently good. But you will say, “What will you have Christians to do then--in a lavish luxury to throw away their estates? or in an excess of charity to make others full, when themselves are empty?” No (see Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:23-24). Riches in the having, in the bare possession, are not a hindrance to Christianity, but in our abuse of them. Your possessions will not be your ruin till your corruptions mingle with them. Under the law the poor and rich were to pay the same ransom Exodus 30:15), intimating they may have interest in the same Christ. Riches in themselves are God’s blessings that come within a promise. Yea, riches with a blessing are so far from being a hindrance to grace, that they are an ornament to it (Proverbs 14:24).

2. A. rich man’s humility is his glory. Your excellency cloth not lie in the splendour of your condition, but in the meekness of your hearts. Humility is not only a clothing--“Put on humbleness of mind” (Colossians 3:12)--but an ornament. “Be decked with humility” (1 Peter 5:5). A high mind and a low condition are all one to the Lord, only poverty hath the advantage, because it is usually gracious. If any may glory, they may glory that have most arguments of God’s love. Now a lowly mind is a far better testimony of it than a high estate. And so before men, as Augustine said, he is a great man that is not lifted up because of his greatness. You are not better than others by your estate, but your meekness. The apostles possessed all things though they had nothing. They have more than you if they have a humble heart.

3. The way to be humble is to count the world’s advantages our abasement. The poor man must glory in that he is exalted, but the rich in that he is made low. Honours and riches do but set us beneath other men, rather than above them, and do rather abate from than add anything to you; and it may be you have less of the Spirit because you have more of the world.

4. If we would be made low in the midst of worldly enjoyments, we should consider the uncertainty of them. Outward riches are so far from being the best things, that they rather are not anything at all. Solomon calleth them “that which is not”; and who ever loved nothing, and would be proud of that which is not?

5. The uncertainty of worldly enjoyments may be well resembled by a flower--beautiful, but fading.

(1) Though the things of the world are specious, yet they should not allure us, because they are fading. Flowers are sweet, and affect the eye, but their beauty is soon scorched; the soul is for an eternal good, that it may have a happiness suitable to its own duration. An immortal soul cannot have full contentment in that which is fading. When the creatures tempt you, be not enticed by the beauty of them, so as to forget their vanity. Say, Here is a flower, glorious, but fading; glass that is bright, but brittle.

(2) The fairest things are most fading. Creatures, when they come to their excellency, then they decay, as herbs, when they come to flower, they begin to wither; or, as the sun when it cometh to the zenith, then it declineth. “Man at his best estate is altogether vanity” (Psalms 39:5); not at his worst only, when the feebleness and inconveniences of old age have surprised him. So the prophet speaketh of “a grasshopper in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth” (Amos 7:1). As soon as the ground recovered any verdure and greenness, presently there came a grasshopper to devour the herbage: the meaning is, a new affliction as soon as they began to flourish. Well, then, suspect these outward things when you most abound in them. (T. Manton.)

Improved by adversity

Many Christian people are like some evening primroses, for whose opening we watched with some friends the other evening. It was a common-looking plant, and the buds were tightly wrapped up so long as the sun shone, and gave but faint promise of the coming beauty. But the moment the sun disappeared, and the gloom of the coming night was threatened in the darkening twilight, they suddenly burst their bonds, displaying sweet blossoms that crowned the homely stock with golden glory. So there are many men and women whose lives are homely and hard and selfish, until their sun of prosperity sets, and the gloom of coming sorrow overshadows them, when, unexpectedly, under that touch of trouble, a hidden bud blossoms in beauty and a sweetness of spirit and character that crowns the whole stock of their lives with goodness and glory.

As the flower of the grass he shall pass away

The blade of grass

St. James plays the fabulist, or historian here, and narrates the sad end of a certain blade of grass. In whose field, then, did this grass grow? All the commentators reply, “In that of the prophet Isaiah.” St. James is here falling back on Old Testament words which would be familiar to the Jews for whom he wrote--words which his story would be sure to recall to their minds.

THE STORY OF THE BLADE OF GRASS (Isaiah 40:6-8). As we listen to the prophet, imagination stirs and works; we see the broad, pleasant field bathed in sunlight, fanned with sweet airs, thick with verdant grass, gay with the purely tinted, fragrant wild flowers which clothe the grass as with the robes of a king; and then we feel the fierce, hot blast sweep across the field, under whose breath the grass withers, the bright flowers fade, and all that teeming life, all that exquisite and varied beauty, is swallowed up of death. Who does not feel at times that that is a true picture of human life? And remembering how, in this field, every separate blade of grass and every fragile flower has its own little world of hopes and fears, joys and pains, who can fail to be saddened as he beholds them withered by a breath, their early promise unfulfilled, their goodliness not ripening to its maturity? “All flesh is grass”--all the great heathen races; but also “this people is grass”--a grass which withers like the rest. Like their neighbours, the Jews were in a constant flux, vexed by constant change. One generation came, and another went. The life, vexed with perpetual changes while it lasted, never continuing in one stay, was soon over and gone. Their only hope lay in obedience to the Divine Word, in appropriating that Word, in steeping their life in it till it became enduring as the Word itself.

THE MORAL OF THIS STORY. St. James is not content with a lesson so large and general as had contented Isaiah. He has a special purpose in view in telling the story which called up memories, prophetic and historic, from the past. As he had taken a single blade of grass out of Isaiah’s broad field, so he selects one man, or one class of men, for special warning. The blade of grass reminds us that human life soon withers, that human fortune often withers even before the man dies. Yes; but it also reminds us that some men wither even while they retain the full vigour of their life, and their good fortune abides. The rich man “withers in his ways,” in his goings to and fro along the lines of his traffic, before his health is touched, before his wealth is touched. And therefore, argues St. James, the rich man should rejoice when his riches use their wings and fly away. The alternative the apostle places before him is this: Let the wealth wither that the man may live, or let the man wither amid the abundance of his wealth. It is a hard saying I but, before we reject it as too hard for practical use, let us clearly understand what it means. James had just said, “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is lifted up, but the rich in that he is brought low.” Now, however much we may dislike the injunction, or part of it, can we deny that it is based on a true, on a Christian, view of human life? Are not sudden and large reverses of condition severe and searching tests of character? Does it not take a very good poor man to ride straight to God when he is set on horseback, and a very good rich man not to “break down” when he is “brought low”? Great reverses of fortune are very searching and conclusive tests of character. And can we expect a Christian teacher to bid us grieve over any reverse by which our character is tested, matured, perfected? The wealth and the poverty will soon pass, but the character will remain, and will determine our destiny. Does any one object, “It may be easy enough for a poor man to be glad when he gets rich; but how is a rich man to rejoice when he becomes poor? You ask too much of us, more than it is in man to give.” I reply: “You are not speaking, and you know that you are not speaking, from the Christian point of view, in the spirit of Him who, when He was rich, for our sakes became poor. You are putting circumstances before character, transitory gains and pleasures before abiding and eternal realities. St. James himself felt that the latter half of his injunction was hard to flesh and blood; in demanding that the rich man should rejoice whenever he is brought low, he felt that he was imposing a very severe test on character, a very heavy strain on virtue. And that, I suppose, is why he told his story of the blade of grass, to which at last we come back. What he meant was, I think, to this effect: “You remember the prophet Isaiah’s field of grass, and how it withered beneath the scorching heat, so that the flower thereof fell off, and the grace of its form perished. The rich man is often like a blade of that grass. The sun of prosperity shines on him more hotly than he can bear; all the promise and beauty of his nature fade beneath the scorching heat; he withers in his ways, in the multitude and perplexity of his schemes and pursuits: his fortune grows, but the man decays, dies before his time, dies even long before he ceases to breathe and traffic.” Douglas Jerrold, one of our keenest wits and satirists, has depicted “a man made of money.” He had only to put his hand into his breast to find it full of banknotes; but as he draws away note after note, he drains away his vitality; he dwindles and pines amid his vast schemes and luxuries month by month, till he wastes into a mere shadow, till the very shadow disappears. The picture is hardly a satire, it is so mere a comonplace. Every day we live we may see men dying of wealth, all that is manly, all that is fine and pure and noble in character, perishing as their fortunes grow. The warning comes home to us in this age as in few previous eras of the world; for our whole life is so rapid and intense, our business is such a strenuous and exhausting competition, we are solicited by so many schemes for our own advancement, or for the good of the town in which we dwell, or for the benefit of the commonwealth of which we form part, that it is almost impossible to make leisure for thought, for a quiet enjoyment of what we have gained, or for those religious meditations and exercises on which our spiritual health in large measure depends. We are literally withering away in our ways, so many are the paths we have to tread, so rapid the pace we have to maintain, so scorching and tainted the atmosphere we breathe. And hence, whether we are rich, or seeking riches, or are labouring with anxious and fretting care for a bare competence, we all need to take heed to the warning which speaks to us as to men; i.e., as to spiritual and immortal creatures, children of God and heirs of eternity. If we would not Suffer this world, which holds us by ties so many, so strong, and so exacting, to crush all high spiritual manhood out of us, we must set ourselves to be in this world as Christ was in the world. Let the mind that was in Christ be in us also; let us cultivate His preference of duty to pleasure, of service to gain, of doing good to getting good; and instead of withering away in our ways, we shall find every path in which we walk a path of life, a path that leads us home. (S. Cox, D. D.)

The metaphors of St. James

The metaphor here used of the rich man is common enough in the Old Testament. Man “cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down,” says Job, in his complaint (Job 14:2); and, “As for man, his days are as grass,” etc., says the Psalmist (Psalms 103:15-16). But elsewhere, with a closer similarity to the present passage, we have this transitory character specially attributed to the ungodly (Psalms 37:2). None of these passages, however, are so clearly in St. James’s mind as the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 40:6-7). Here the words of St. James are almost identical with those of the Septuagint. “Grass” throughout is a comprehensive term for herbage, and the “flower of grass” does not mean the bloom or blossom of grass in the narrower sense, but the wild flowers, specially abundant and brilliant in the Holy Land, which grow among the grass. “The scorching wind” (ὁ καύσων) is one of the features of the Epistle which harmonise well with the fact that the writer was an inhabitant of Palestine. It is the furnacelike blast from the arid wilderness to the east of the Jordan. The fig-tree, olives, and vine (James 3:12) are the chief fruit-trees of Palestine; and “the early and latter rain” (James 5:7) points still more clearly to the same district. It has been remarked with justice that whereas St. Paul for the most part draws his metaphors from the scenes of human activity--building, husbandry, athletic contests, and warfare--St. James prefers to take his metaphors from the scenes of nature. In this chapter we have “the surge of the sea” (verse 6) and “the flower of the grass” (verse 10). In the third chapter we have the “rough winds” driving the ships, the “wood kindled by a small fire,” “the wheel of nature,” “every kind of beasts and birds, of creeping things, and things in the sea,” “the fountain sending forth sweet water,” “the fig-tree and vine” (verses 4-7, 11, 12). In the fourth chapter human life is “a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (verse 14). And in the last chapter, besides the moth and the rust, we have “the fruit of the earth,” and “the early and latter rain” (verses 2, 3, 7, 18). These instances are certainly very numerous, when the brevity of the Epistle is considered. The love of nature which breathes through them was no doubt learned and cherished in the village home at Nazareth, and it forms another link between St. James and his Divine Brother. Nearly every one of the natural phenomena to which St. James directs attention in this letter are used by Christ also in His teaching. In some cases the use made by St. James of these natural objects is very similar to that made by our Lord, and it may well be that what he writes is a reminiscence of what he had heard years before from Christ’s lips; but in other cases the use is quite different, and must be assigned to the love of nature, and the recognition of its fitness for teaching spiritual truths, which is common to the Lord and His brother. But there is this great difference between Christ’s teaching from nature and that of St. James: St. James recognises in the order and beauty of the universe a revelation of Divine truth, and makes use of the facts of the external world to teach spiritual lessons; the incarnate Word, in drawing spiritual lessons from the external world, could expound the meaning of a universe which He Himself had made. In the one case it is a disciple of nature who imparts to us the lore which he himself has learned; in the other it is the Master of nature, who points out to us the meaning of His own world, and interprets to us the voices of the winds and the waves, which obey him. (A. Plummer, D. D.)

So also shall the rich man fade away

Fading splendour

We delight in pictures and emblems, for then the soul, by the help of fancy, hath a double view of the object in the similitude, which is, as it were, a picture of it, and then the thing itself. This was God’s ancient way to teach His people by types; still He teacheth us by similitudes taken from common objects, that when we are cast upon them, spiritual thoughts may be awakened; and so every ordinary object is, as it were, consecrated to a heavenly purpose. Well, then, let this be your field meditation; when you see them decked with a great deal of bravery, remember all this is gone in an instant when the burning heat ariseth.

2. Our comforts are perishing in themselves, but especially when the hand of Providence is stretched out against them. The flower fadeth of itself, but chiefly when it is scorched by the glowing, burning east wind. Our hearts should be loose at all times from outward things, but especially in times of public desolation; it is a sin against Providence to effect great things; when God is overturning all, then there is a burning heat upon the flowers, and God is gone forth to blast worldly glory (Jeremiah 45:4-5).

There are three sins especially by which you make Providence your enemy, and so the creatures more vain.

1. When you abuse them to serve your lusts. Where there is pride and wantonness, you may look for a burning; certainly your flowers will be scorched and dried up.

2. When you make them objects of trust. God can brook no rivals; trust being the fairest and best respect of the creatures, it must not be intercepted, but ascend to God.

3. Worldly men pursue wealth with great care and industry. The rich turneth hither and thither, he hath several ways whereby to accomplish his ends. What pains do men take for things that perish! Do but observe their incessant care and unwearied industry, and say, how well would this suit with the heavenly treasure! It is a pity a plant that would thrive so well in Canaan should still grow in the soil of Egypt; that the zealous earnestness of the soul should be misplaced, and we should take more pains to be rich unto the world than to be rich towards God (Luke 12:21). Shall a lust have more power upon them than the love of God upon me? And when we see men “cumber themselves with much serving,” and bustling up and down in the world, and all for riches that “take themselves wings and fly away,” we may be ashamed that we do so little for Christ, and they do so much for wealth.

4. Lastly, again, from that ἐν ταῖς πορείαις “in his ways,” or journeys. All our endeavours will be fruitless if God’s hand be against us. As the flower to the burning heat, so is the rich man in his ways; that is, notwithstanding all his industry and care, God may soon blast him: they “earned wages, but put it in a bag with holes” (Haggai 1:6), that is, their gains did not thrive with them. Peter “toiled all night but caught nothing,” till he took Christ into the boat (Luke 5:5). So you will catch nothing, nothing with comfort and profit, till you take God along with you Psalms 127:2). (T. Manton.)

Delusive nature of riches

There is a fable of a covetous man who chanced to find his way, one moonlight night, into a fairy’s palace. There he saw bars, apparently of solid gold, strewn on every side; and he was permitted to take away as many as he could carry. In the morning, when the sun rose on his imaginary treasure, borne home with so much toil, behold I there was only a bundle of sticks; and invisible beings filled the air around him with scornful laughter. Such shall be the confusion of many a man that died in this world worth his thousands, and woke up in the next world not only “miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17), but in presence of a heap of fuel stored up against the great day of burning (Romans 2:5).

How to be rich

Do all rich men know how to be rich? He does not know how to do anything who does that thing so that he brings it to its worst and not its best results. Is that not true? A man does not know how to sail a ship who steers it so that when it ought to go to Liverpool he brings it into Madagascar. Where is the ship of wealth then meant to sail? Her port is clear and certain--to generosity and sympathy, and fineness of nature, and healthy use of powers. What shall we say, then, of the man whose money makes him selfish and cruel, and coarse and idle, or any one of these bad things? There are many hard names which we may call him by, but the real philosophy of the whole matter, the comprehensive definition of it all, is this--he does not know how to be rich! He is a blunderer in a great art. Look at his opposite. Look at the man who takes money into the easy mastery of his character, appropriates it. He makes it part of him. The richer that he grows the more generous and sympathetic and fine and active he becomes. What can you say of him but that he does know how to be rich. I say of a man that he knows how to travel when he makes each new country, as be enters it, open its secrets and render up to him new interest and knowledge. I say of a man that he does not know how to swim when the water takes possession of him and drowns him in itself. So I say that a man does not know how to be rich when his money makes him its slave, and turns him into a coarseness like itself instead of being elevated and refined by the commanding spirituality of his human soul. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)

Dying rich

What an awful thing it is to die rich! Imagine the Master auditing the account of a servant who has left behind a million! If that poor wretch who had but one talent was cast into outer darkness because he laid it up instead of using it in his Master’s service, what will be the doom of those who, with their half millions and millions (while giving, it may be, a few thousands for decency’s sake), have, year after year, hoarded up countless treasures which they could never use? Think of the poor saints pinched with cold and hunger! Think of the Redeemer’s cause languishing for the want of that filthy lucre which they hold with close-fisted selfishness! Yet listen to their talk! “I am but a steward.” “I am not my own.” “Every believer in Jesus is my brother or sister.” What a mockery! Will not this be the Master’s language to many a professor: “Out of thine own mouth will I condemn thee”?

Verse 12

James 1:12

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation

The rewards for enduring temptation



1. Men are tempted when assailed by Satan.

2. Men are tempted by their fellow-creatures.

3. Men are tempted by the afflictions and privations of life.


1. When it is borne in a spirit of unflinching piety.

2. When it induces the cultivation of a spirit of dependence on God.

3. When it is not allowed to hinder progress in piety.


1. Great dignity.

2. The enduring character of their reward.

THE SECURITY OF THIS REWARD. (Evangelical Preacher.)

Enduring temptation

This is a blessing which the true disciple of Christ should never weary of holding in remembrance. At the very outset of his letter the apostle strikes this keynote: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into divers trials, knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh endurance.” What the Christian needs is the power of patient endurance, and the apostle goes on to say how this may be secured. We want wisdom to learn the lessons of experience; and wisdom is given to those who ask for it in faith. It is the want of faith which causes instability. Our subject, then, is--The various trials which we meet in daily life, and which put to the proof our faith and power of endurance. Our true life in this world is a life of struggle, and our true wisdom is to learn by experience what is the real good of life. Some of the trials which we have to endure come upon us by God’s appointment from the circumstances in which we are placed, and over which we have no control. Just as the worth of a sailor is tested by the length and the roughness of the voyage, as the courage of a soldier is put to proof by the marches and the battles he must go through, so is every one of us put to the test by the ordinary circumstances of life; and according to the stuff that we show ourselves to be made of, according to our worth, so will be our judgment. There is no escaping this process of trial: from our earliest days till we draw our last breath it is the inevitable lot of each one of us. God has appointed to every time of life its own discipline, and true progress is possible only if we make a right use of the advantages which lie to our hand, only if we learn the wisdom of experience from each passing season as it comes and goes. But it is when we go forth from the home and school, and begin to do life’s work in earnest, that we find out what it is to live, and how hard it often is to live as we would wish. The conditions of modern society are not altogether favourable to virtue and godliness. On the one hand we have wealth and culture, and refined ease and pleasure-seeking; we have thoughtful inquiry into the nature of things, bold invention, and fertility of resource; science, art, religion, all dressed in their best clothes, and looking very fair and comfortable indeed. On the other hand there is hunger and poverty and degradation, seething discontent and daring impiety and reckless crime prowling like wild beasts outside the circles of respectability, threatening to accomplish their unholy ends by works of violence, hating the light and loving the darkness because their deeds are evil. Every circumstance of daily life becomes a trial of our virtue. The wealth we have, the talents we possess, the station in life we occupy, our knowledge, our leisure, our business capacity are all tests of character whereby we prove to God and man what we are living for--whether we are living all for self and the world, or whether we are living for anything nobler, purer, better. And not only as individuals are we thus tested, but as communities and nations. Our laws and our governments, our inventions, our means of communication, our ships, our railways, our telegraphs--everything by which labour is lessened and wealth increased, every scheme projected for subduing nature and bettering the material condition of mankind--these and the use that we make of them are the things by which we are every day tried and judged, and shall be tried and judged at the last day. In the next place, we must reckon in the category of trials the misfortunes and hard things of life, the disappointments, the losses, the diseases, the sufferings, the thousand ills that natural flesh is heir to--all the things which cause us to have hard thoughts of life, of God, of our brethren. These hard things do not come from chance, nor are they necessarily temptations of the devil. They come to us in the ordinary course of life, as inevitable accidents if you will; but, better still, they are to be regarded as discipline, appointed by the love of a heavenly Father. Now, the effect which sufferings and hardships have upon us depends entirely upon the way in which we receive them. If we yield to them and grumble, they leave us unsoftened and worse than we were before. But if, on the other hand, we bear them patiently, seeing in them the loving hand of an all-wise Benefactor, then they leave us chastened indeed, but purged of earthy dross, with the true gold of our hearts purified and fit for use in the great temple of the Lord. There is still one other class of trials which we must not forget to mention, and these are temptations proper, as we usually understand the word--the actual inducements to sin which surround us and lie in wait for us, and fall upon us to hurt us in the course of our lives. These temptations may be of two kinds. They may be enticements to that which in itself is sinful, as, for instance, when we are tempted in business to dishonesty, or when in intercourse with others we are tempted to falsehood, malice, unrighteous conduct of any kind. On the other hand, the temptations may arise from what is in itself innocent, but which becomes sinful from an improper use of it. Such are the temptations to excess in the use of stimulants; excess in seeking after pleasure which may be mere frivolity or uncleanness; excess in carefulness of worldly things, the covetousness which is idolatry. A very large number of sins which men commit are of this kind. Most men do not seek after what they know to be evil, but they cannot draw the line at moderation. These, too, are trials or tests which show whether or not we can be true and brave for the right and the pure. If we conquer them they are powerless to hurt us, and become instruments for bracing us up and making us stronger than before; if we yield to them they become our tyrants to oppress us with a slavery worse than the bondage of the Israelites in Egypt. What we all need, then, is the Holy Spirit of God ruling within our hearts in love and power, teaching us to refuse the evil and choose the good, making us steadfast to adhere to the right, and causing us to use our time, our talents, our means, our circumstances, both for the strengthening of our own souls and for the furthering of the cause of righteousness among men. Blessed are we if we can do this, and come out of our trials proved and perfected, holding fast at every cost the true and the right. Blessed are we if we have wisdom to consider our wealth and talents as so many gifts to be used for the glory of God and the good of our fellow-men. Blessed are we if we have the courage in all our business dealings to be absolutely honest and just. Blessed are we if we are not only just but pitiful, loving, forgiving, and merciful. (A. C. Watson, B. D.)

The secret and the reward of constancy

What the function of evil is, and why it is permitted to exist, is a question which has perplexed the minds of men ever since they used discourse of reason. It is, confessedly, the most difficult of questions, and many, perhaps most, of the wise have given it up as, for the present at least, an insoluble problem. But the question, so difficult to us, seems to have presented no difficulty to the practical and an-inquisitive intellect of St. James. According to him, the function of evil is to try men, to test them, to put them to the proof, to show them what they are and what they ought to be. Because trials bring us wisdom, and faith, and patience, we are not to shrink from them, but to glory in them, however trying they may be, and even though they seem to put that which is good in us to jeopardy. In verse 12 the apostle sums up all that he has previously said. As he has mused over his theme his heart has taken fire, and he breaks out into the exclamation, “Happy is the man that endureth temptation!” He has bidden us rejoice when we fall into divers trials; now he pronounces us happy, because we have let patience have her perfect work, because we have sought wisdom of God, because we have risen to an unwavering faith. And, indeed, we may easily see that it is not enough for our welfare that we should simply be exposed to trials, or that we should suffer them. If we are to get the good of them, if they are to refine and complete our character, we must endure them, i.e., as the word implies, we must meet them with a cheerful constancy. I know how hard all this sounds, and is, to the ordinary man. And even if, as yet, we feel that we ourselves cannot endure heavy trials with cheerful fortitude, do we not count those happy who can? do we not wish we were as strong as they? We must admit, then, that St. James is simply uttering an obvious truth when he exclaims, “Happy is the man that endureth trial!” But why is he happy? The apostle hints at one reward in the words, “when he is approved,” and distinctly states another reward of constancy in the words, “he shall receive the crown of life.” For the phrase, “when he is approved,” points to a figure often employed both in the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Both the prophets and the apostles represent God as a refiner, who sits by the furnace, assaying and purifying gold and silver, and who, when He has purged them of their cross, stamps them as true metal of sterling worth. He has proved them, and He approves them. That a man should like trial for its own sake is no more to be expected than we could expect gold, were it rational and sensitive, to like the fire. But even gold, if it were rational as well as sensitive, might well be content to endure the furnace by which its purity and value are enhanced, by which its alloys and defects are searched out and purged away. Nor does St. James demand that we should like trial for its own sake, but for the sake of the happy effects it will produce on us if it be borne with constancy. How happy, then, is the man who endures trial with a cheerful constancy--happy in that his character is at once refined and approved! This twofold reward we might deem sufficient. But God giveth liberally, with a full hand. To the cheerful endurer He is a cheerful Giver. And hence St. James goes on to promise “the crown of life” to as many as endure. But what is this crown of life? It is simply a life victorious and crowned; or, in other words, it is a royal and perfected character. Now I suppose there is no one thing that a thoughtful man, who takes his life earnestly, so much desires, as the reward St. James here promises to those who endure. In every one of us there are two men, two worlds, at strife, each of which gains the upper hand at times, neither of which ceases to struggle for its lost supremacy. It is because of this doubleness of nature, and the incessant strife between them, that we are so restless. What is there that we so heartily crave as the power to rule ourselves, to subdue, pacify, and harmonise the conflicting energies, whose ceaseless strife carries havoc through the soul? St. James tells us how we may attain it. Trials, he says, come for this very end, to make us perfect and complete men. If we endure them with steadfast patience, they will work in us a noble character, a royal dignity; they will put a crown on our heads, the crown of life. And, mark, he is not dealing with mere figures of speech; or, rather, he is dealing with figures of speech, but with figures that accurately express facts which we may all verify for ourselves. The phrase, “when he is approved,” points to the figure of the refiner’s furnace. But drop the figure, and is it not true that trials, wisely borne, refine and elevate character? Do not those who have patiently endured many sorrows acquire a gentleness, a tenderness, a quick sympathy which, to mere polish of manner, is as tinsel to gold? That other phrase, “the crown of life,” is also a figure, which indicates the royalty of character that makes a man lord of himself and equal to any fate. And if, at first, the promise sounds a little extravagant, is it not nevertheless a literal statement of fact? Look around you and mark who are the men of whom you are most sure, whom everybody trusts, to whom all are glad to run for counsel or succour. Are they not those who have been tested by divers kinds of trial, and have borne them with manly resolution and cheerfulness? Are they not those who are known to have long ruled themselves in the fear of God, who have governed their passions and cravings with a firm hand; men who, when need was, have planted themselves against the world, and have overcome it? Ah! happy and blessed men! They have endured temptation, and they are approved by God and man. They have risen to that royal sway over themselves which is the true crown of a true life. The life eternal is theirs, even as they pass through the fleeting and changeful hours of time. Every part of St. James’s promise, then, accords with the plain facts of human life. Trials borne with constancy do refine men, do manifestly win for them the approval of God, do give them a royal self-mastery and control. But we must not expect to “receive” this promise until we have fulfilled its condition. The reward of constancy is only for the constant. What is the secret of that constancy of which the reward is so great? The apostle reveals this secret. “The crown of life,” he says, is promised “to them that love Him, i.e., to them that love God; or, as we cannot love the Father whom we have not seen without loving the brother whom we have seen, this crown is promised to those who love God and man. Those who endure are those who love. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Enduring temptations

Nothing can exceed the diversity which characterises the lot of men in this life. Looking abroad on the surface of human society we behold constant and most wonderful mutations. You do not see around you now such a state of things as you ever expected. Some whom you hoped to see in honour are covered with infamy--others are covered in the dust! There is something unpleasant to such beings as we are, in this fluctuating state. We meet with much to try us. We have disappointments, afflictions, fears, reverses. And there is no course or character that can secure us against disappointment, and the grave of the graceless is dug just beside the grave of the man of God. Let us look beyond these changes. Let us anticipate that state when change shall be no more.

TRIALS AND TEMPTATIONS ARE IN THIS LIFE TO BE EXPECTED. From some ardour of temperament, from some vanity of self-esteem, from some inadequate idea of the station in which religion places us in this world, or some inadequate idea of the duties it requires, we are prone to flatter ourselves that we are going to find it not a very difficult thing, and not very severe to the flesh, to preserve the integrity of a Christian’s virtue. But this is a dangerous delusion. Rut we do say, that in this life believers should expect temptations, and be on their guard. They will not find it easy to be always faithful to their Master.

1. There is nothing said in the Scriptures which gives us any reason to suppose that it is an easy thing to be faithful Christians. Provision is made for us to vanquish assaults; but the security and peace of heaven do not belong to us here.

2. The express declarations of the Holy Scriptures assure us that believers will, in this life, have very much to tempt and try their fidelity.

3. The character of the believer is such, that it is impossible he should be free from temptation. He is sanctified only in part. Now every feeling and every principle of the believer which are not wholly sanctified, are so many weak points at which he is exposed to injury. More than this, there are so many living, active enemies exerting their energies to drive him into sin. We shall find it difficult to endure. When we little think it, some propensity to evil will solicit gratification. There is almost an infinite variety in those ways in which corruption operates. The heart is the fountain of a thousand streams. One of them turned from its channel will often seek out another, and flow onward with accelerated speed. Another, checked in its course, will often accumulate its energies for a more terrible rush. We ought not to feel secure.

4. Whatever we may hope, there is no situation in this world which places us beyond danger. There are temptations of adversity. There are temptations of prosperity. There are temptations of youth. There are temptations of middle life. There are temptations of old age. How difficult for the man of years to give up the world! There are temptations of health. There are temptations of sickness.

5. If we look at the course in which God has led His own people, we shall find that they have been tried so as by fire. Can we find among the biographies of the saints any one that entered into his rest by a smooth path?

NOW THE OBJECT OF ALL THESE IS OUR TRIAL. “When he is tried,” is the language of our text. There may be some obscurity lingering around this idea. Certainly our God does not try us for the same purposes that men make trials. He knows perfectly what we are and what we shall do in every situation, and needs not the evidence of a trial to enlighten His knowledge.

1. The trial may be designed for our improvement. Surely, those who have had the most mature fitness for entering into the assembly of the first-born had been indebted for it, under God, to those circumstances of difficulty which “tried men’s souls.” Grace is a gift, but it is the nature of grace to improve by action. No man can be of strong body whose muscles have not been used to hard work. No mind can attain much vigour without much severe exercise. And the temptation which tries grace may be necessary for that perfection of grace which fits for heaven.

2. The trial may be designed as a proof to the creatures of God.

Whatever may be our trials or the design of them, both DUTY AND INTEREST DEMAND OUR UNSHAKEN FIDELITY. God is a righteous rewarder. There is no difficulty or temptation which will excuse us for unfaithfulness. There is no want of gracious resource in God.

What shall we do? WHAT SHALL BE OUR RESOURCE AMID THE TEMPTATIONS THAT BESET US--these outward fightings and inward fears? The text holds up a crown of life upon our view; it points to the promise and speaks of the love of God. Listen to three ideas on this point.

1. You will find but little to fortify your souls by hope against temptation, if you do not look beyond time. Here few joys will you have. Your peace will be often interrupted--your pleasures vanish--and many a poisoned arrow enter into your heart! But there is another and a better world. Look forward to it.

2. And remember the gift is certain. The text mentions a promise. It is the promise of Him who cannot lie. Resort, then, to the promises of God when temptation assails you.

3. But hope and faith need assistance. Things unseen and eternal are not, always, as living realities to such creatures as we. You may muster resolution, array arguments, multiply resolves, and do whatever else you will for your security; but the love of God is worth more than all. Christians often resort to vain contrivances. (I. S. Spencer, D. D.)

Enduring temptation

THE MAN WHO IS BLESSED. We read in Job, “Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth.” So James says here, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation.” Here we are to understand troubles, afflictions of whatever kind, all that calls for submission, endurance--all that causes pain, anxiety, apprehension. It may be outward in its nature. It may be personal or domestic affliction. It may be disease. It may be poverty with its toils and cares. It may be persecution, with its reproaches, injuries, and penalties. It may be family difficulty, for what crosses arise from heat of temper, perverseness of disposition, incongruity of character, &c.? Or the temptation may be more internal, spiritual in its nature. It may lie in the buffetings of Satan, in seasons of darkness and depression, in peculiar and painful experiences, in terrible fears and fightings within. Every Christian has to pass through the furnace, while in the case of some it is heated seven times, Now mark, the blessed man is he that endureth temptation. The emphasis lies on the endureth. That is equally removed from two extremes Hebrews 12:5). We are not to manifest a proud, defiant spirit under trial, to summon up resolution and refuse to bend under the blow, to treat it with a stoical indifference. That is not Christianity. We are to give scope to the sensibilities of our nature, within due limits. And it is only thus it can serve the purpose of trial, can prove and improve our graces. We are to see the hand of our heavenly Father in all that befalls us, to recognise ever His power, wisdom, faithfulness, and love, to guard against everything like charging Him foolishly, like questioning either the equity or the goodness of any of His dealings. We are to apply to Him for needful guidance and strength, to repress the risings of impatience, unbelief, self-will, and to fall back ever on the sure promises of His Word and provisions of His covenant. Thus to wait, thus to suffer, and so to have an unquestionable title to the blessing pronounced by the apostle.

THE RESPECT IN WHICH HE IS BLESSED. “When he is tried”--that is after he has been thus tested. “He shall receive the crown of life”--shall receive it then, at the last, after the completion of this process of sifting. The reference is to the future inheritance of the saints. It is the prospect of that which makes the believer blessed for ever. It is indicative of spiritual triumph--of the battle fought and the victory won. It is conferred only on him that overcometh. It is also, and in its own nature, a symbol of honour and power. It is the accompaniment and expression of royal dignity and authority. And so it tells us that, whatever the humiliation of the believer here below, whatever the contempt heaped on him, he is to be highly exalted; all reproach is to be wiped away, and as in the case of the Lord Himself, the cross is to be exchanged for the crown. And mark the crown, which elsewhere is described as one of righteousness and of glory, is here spoken of as one of life--that is, it consists in life; it is, as it were, composed of this material. It is here literally and exactly the life--that is to say, the well-known life which is promised to those who fight the good fight of faith, and triumph in the conflict. Here is life worth the having--life most blessed, never-ending, all-perfect--life in comparison with which every other is little better than death. But is the man that endureth perfectly sure of this imperishable crown? Here is his warrant, his guarantee, “which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him.” The apostle thus condenses what is spread out at large in many of the exceeding great and precious promises. The believer does not earn the crown by his trials; he does not procure it by means of personal merit. No; the crown is the fruit of the Cross; not any cross borne by us, but that which was endured by the Lord Jesus. All spiritual life is the result and the reward of His atoning death. He alone is worthy; and it is as united to Him by faith that His people are in any sense entitled to the eternal recompense. As it is thus gracious, so the blessedness is not present but future, in respect of its full possession and enjoyment. It is a thing as yet not given, but only promised, so long as the believer is here below. He is here the heir rather than the proprietor, the man of large prospects rather than of large possessions. But the issue is absolutely certain, secured, as it is, by the promise of that God. Not only so, he is favoured with present pledges and earnests of the future glory. In the hope of it he has an element of strength and comfort, by which he is invigorated and gladdened amidst all his struggles and sorrows. On whom is this crown to be bestowed? The question is an important one; and we are not left without a perfectly distinct answer. The Divine Word brings clearly out who may, and who may not, warrantably appropriate the provisions of the covenant, the sure mercies of David. So here the crown is said to be promised “to them that love Him,” that is, to those who thus prove themselves the Lord’s people. Their love does not constitute their title to it, but it establishes and manifests that title (see John 14:21; Matthew 10:37; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Romans 8:28; James 2:5). And this statement serves to bring out the only true spring and the only scriptural kind of endurance. The source of it is love to God and His Son Jesus Christ. It is this which sweetens the most bitter cup, and eases the heaviest burden. It keeps down dark suspicions and rebellious murmurs. It enables us to take a right view of the gracious design of the Divine dealings, and to kiss the rod which is seen to be held in a Father’s hand, and used not for His pleasure, but solely for our profit. It changes the whole aspect of Providence, and imparts a peace and a strength which sustain under the severest temptations or trials. And any constancy, perseverance, which has not this element in it, yea, which is not rooted in it, is not Christian and cannot be crowned with the life everlasting. (John Adam.)

The probation of man


1. The power and opportunity--the danger of proving unfaithful, and of incurring the final displeasure of our Maker and Judge.

2. The power and opportunity of doing right; the blessed possibility of answering the purpose of our being; of proving obedient and faithful, and of our so doing this, as to secure at last, the approbation of our Almighty Judge.


IT IS GOD HIMSELF WHO PROPORTIONS AND REGULATES THE TRIAL THROUGH WHICH WE HAVE TO PASS. He is too just, too wise, to appoint a trial low and inadequate; and too good to appoint one more severe than the strength He has imparted can sustain.

EVERY AGE, EVERY SITUATION IN LIFE, IS A STATE OF TRIAL; it therefore behoves us to be on our guard against that particular danger to which our particular situation exposes us.



A GREAT AND GLORIOUS REWARD is promised to the man who is faithful to his trial. Such a crown as is worn by those who are kings and priests to God; a crown that shall shine with undiminished splendours, when the light of the sun is extinguished, and the stars shall glitter no morel (James Bromley.)

Temptation: its origin and end

Let us inquire into THE ORIGIN OF TEMPTATION. HOW does temptation arise? Temptation, one of the darkest facts of human life, arises, strange to say, from two sources which are man’s peculiar heritage and glory--his moral nature and his moral perfectibility. We can be tempted because we know right from wrong; because right carries with it a feeling in ourselves of obligation to do it; and because with this feeling come into frequent conflict inducements to do the wrong. We can be tempted because the vision of the ideal opens itself out to our inward eye; because we are conscious of the possibility of better things; and because the sluggishness of the natural man prompts us to remain content with present attainments, and represents to us the arduous effort that is necessary if we would reach the things that lie beyond. Let us look at these two points with a somewhat closer attention. We of all creatures on the earth are the sole possessors of what deserves to be called a moral nature. We are sensible that we ought to do this and ought not to do that, that we owe the doing and the not doing to our own life and well-being and to the life and well-being of mankind. The highest moral natures among men are such as feel most strongly that, to use the weighty words of Ruskin, “a duty missed is the worst of loss.” But here, as I say, in this moral nature of ours, and in the feeling of duty that has its seat in it, is found one of the two sources whence temptation arises. God, speaking to us through the universe in which we live, through the age-long experience of the human generations of the past, has set before us the acts that lead to life and blessing, and the acts that lead to death and the curse. But again and again we choose death instead of life. Again and again, under the thoughtless impulse of the moment, we prefer the present to the future, immediate gratification to lasting good; the pretty flower that we know will wither in our hand to the seed which, if only we wait for it, will live again. In a word, we know our duty, and yield to the temptation to refuse to do it. In these temptations to neglect of duty lies the virtue that there is in doing it; and from the feeling of duty implied in our moral nature these temptations come. Furthermore, the second source of temptation is, as I have said, the perfectibility, the capacity for increasing progress, of the mortal nature of man. For you must bear in mind that the present is the child of the past, and accordingly has upon it the marks of its parentage. Everybody knows how much in common man has with the animals beneath him. His physical frame is fashioned after a pattern in many respects similar to theirs. In the same way, the spiritual elements in him have not yet shaken themselves free from the elements pertaining to his animal life. Greed, passion, appetite, the instinct that prompts him to pursue his own happiness without any regard to the good of others; self considered, not as related to society, but as independent of, even if not opposed to it--these characteristics of the lower nature from which the higher has developed, still remain. In the best men they are faint and weak; in the worst men they are pronounced and strong; in all men, except Him who is the Ideal Man--Jesus Christ--something of them still appears. Hence temptation arises--the temptation to sink back again into the brute instead of going on and ever on to the likeness of the Son of God. To proceed. We have sought, in the first place, to answer the question, How does temptation arise?

We will now, in the second place, endeavour to answer the question, WHAT IS ITS END? For let us be well assured that no fact of the universe is there as a thing of chance. It has its function in the vast cosmic machinery that is working out the final purposes of God. Sable though its livery may be, still it is a servant in the Divine household. Question it with meekness and reverence, and you will find it not without an answer. It seems, then, that the end of temptation is threefold.

1. First of all, it is an education in self-knowledge. We find out our weak points, we learn where we are strongest, we get to know what we possess of moral resource, we discover where we stand in the upward path. Our Father in heaven sets us in the world of temptation that we may come to know what we are. The knowledge is beyond price, for through self-knowledge, wisely used, comes self-conquest.

2. Then, in the second place, it is through temptation that there arises the strengthening of the moral nature, Mere innocence is not the highest moral state; and innocence does not grow into virtue until it has been exposed to temptation, and the right has been voluntarily chosen, and the wrong voluntarily eschewed. Go to the shed where a potter is working. See around him the products of his art. They are beautiful in form, in design. But take one into your hand. Ah! you have marred it; its shape is spoiled. The clay was soft. It has as readily taken the impress of your unskilled touch as it took the impress of the potter’s skilful hand. Why? Because it has not yet been put in the fire to have its beauty made permanent. Similar is it with the soul. We should not have been even what we are, if we had not been tempted, and largely by the same means shall we come to be what we hope--souls perfected in goodness, possessors of a will whose currents, deep and strong, flow ever toward the right.

3. We come to the end of temptation--the creation of sympathy between man and man. Self-knowledge is good; moral strength is better; sympathy is best of all. And it is through similarity of experience that sympathy between man and man is produced. It counts for next to nothing that my neighbour sins in different ways from me. We both sin--that is the central fact. What I may feel with regard to his sin and its consequences is a different matter. They deserve denunciation, but he sympathy. Am I without a stain to cast stones at him? All, no! the Holiest this earth has seen was the friend of publicans and sinners. Like Him, I should sympathise with my sinful brethren; like Him, myself having suffered being tempted and suffering it every day I live, I should seek, by the power of sympathy, so sweetly strong, to succour them that are tempted. (H. Farley, B. A.)

True blessedness here and hereafter

The text is a Beatitude. It begins with blessed. We should all like to be blessed. What a more than golden word that “blessed” is! It begins the Psalms of David: there is sweetest poetry in it. It begins the sermon of the Son of David; it is the end of all holy teaching. “Happiness” is the earthly word; “blessedness” is the heavenly one. There are such persons as blessed men, or the eminently practical James would not have written concerning them. It is true the curse has fallen on the world, and man is born to endure toil and suffering in tilling a thorn-bearing earth, and earning his bread with the sweat of his face; but for all that, there are blessed men--men so blessed that the wilderness and the solitary place are glad for them, and by their presence the desert is made to rejoice and blossom as the rose. Great mistakes are made as to the persons who are happy and blessed. Some suppose that the wealthy must be blessed; but if their lives were written, it could be proved to a demonstration that some of those who have had the largest possessions have had the very least of blessedness, especially when those possessions have brought with them the curses of the oppressed and the wailings of the down-trodden. No, look not in gold mines for blessedness, for it gleams not among the nuggets. It cannot be gotten for all the treasures of the miser, or the wealth of nations. But, surely, it is to be found in positions of eminence and power. These are greatly coveted, and men will sell their souls to win them; but I suppose from what I have read of history that if I were to select the most unhappy set of men beneath the vault of heaven one would only have to select statesmen emperors, and kings. Not the high but the holy are blessed; not those who sit with the great, but those who serve with the good are marked out of the Lord as blessed. Nobler natures feel no greed for gold, and pine for no distinction of rank; but they count those blessed who know, and are stored with wisdom. But is it so? Doth he that increaseth knowledge increase joy? Doth he not the rather add to his sorrow? If knowledge were bliss the devil would be in heaven. But some think that surely blessedness may be had by a combination of dignity and wisdom and riches. Put these together, and a man might surely be blessed. And yet it does not seem to be so. I should think that no mortal that ever lived had finer opportunities than Solomon. He cast everything into the crucible, and he brought out of it, not gold, but ashes. “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.” No, you cannot find blessedness on a throne nor in making many books, nor in seeking out many inventions, nor in enjoying all luxuries. These things all cry, “It is not in me.” If you want blessedness, hear him speak who knows. That is, hear the Holy Ghost speak by the mouth of His servant James: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation.”

Let us behold my. BLESSED IN THIS LIFE. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation.” It does seem very startling at first sight that the blessed man should be described in this way. Notice, it does not say, “Blessed is the man that is tempted,” nor “Blessed is the man that is beset by temptation.” No. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation.” That is to say, the man who bears up under it, survives it, is not led aside by it, but endures it as gold endures the fire. You need to have a religion which is tested every day in the week, and which stands you in good stead because it can endure the test. You are blessed if you have a religion which God gives, which God tries, which God sustains, which God accepts. As an uncultivated garden is no garden, so untried godliness is no godliness. A faith that will not bear strain and test is no faith. A love that cannot endure temptation is no love to God at all. The men who bear affliction in a gracious manner, these are the blessed people, for they have a patience that has been tested, a faith that has passed the ordeal, a love that has been more than a conqueror in trial. These according to our text are the blessed people.

1. And they are blessed among other things for this reason: because they have endured temptation through their love to God. To cease from evil ways because the Lord Jesus Christ has loved you and given Himself for you, and you have been led to put your sole trust in the merit of His precious blood--this is a genuine work of grace.

2. Then there arises out of the endurance of temptation a sense of God’s acceptance. The text saith, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is approved”: that is the new version, and a very correct one, too. Not so much when he is tried, but when he has been tried--when he has been put into the fitting pot, and has come out warranted to be real unalloyed gold; when he is proved, and therefore approved, then he shall receive the crown of life.” After the tried man has stood against temptation, God says of him, “Now I know that thou fearest Me,” as He said concerning Abraham after He had tried him. “Now I know that thou fearest God,” This approval of God breeds a holy delight in the soul.

3. There comes over the back Of this a number of things to help to make such a man blessed: for he has great thankfulness in his soul. You remember Bunyan’s description of the feelings of Christian when he had passed through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and was able to look back by the intoning light. He was struck with awe to think that he had ever passed through such a war as that, with an abyss on one side and a quagmire on the ether. The road was haunted with sprites and hobgoblins, and beset with traps and gins and snares beyond all count; and yet he had actually come through that way in safety. When he saw what he had escaped, what could he do but down on his knees and bless God with all his heart that he had been protected through so great a peril? It helps to make a man blessed when his mind is filled with holy gratitude to God who has preserved him.

4. Besides, another feeling comes over him--that of deep humility. “Oh,” says he, “what a wonder of grace I am! However is it that I have escaped such peril? With such a base nature as mine, how have I been kept from destruction? I shall to-morrow perish and fall unless the Lord Himself be still my helper.” Putting his trust in God, that sense of his own nothingness, accompanied with a sense of his perfect security in God, makes him feel exceedingly happy.

5. And, once more, he enjoys a fearlessness of heart. The forked tongue of slander has no power with him: he has an antidote against the venom of malice. The noise and strife of this world can little distress him, for innocence walls him up against the onslaught of the enemy. He stands like a rock in the midst of the raging billows, for God has given him steadfastness of soul; and is not that blessedness?


1. He shall receive a crown. That crown which is promised us is not for talk, nor thought, nor vow, but it records something done. It was something appreciated-appreciated by Him that gave the crown. It will be no small heaven for God Himself to appreciate our poor lives 1 It is our blessedness both now and for ever to be accepted in Christ Jesus. A crown meant reward. Now, in the gospel system there is room for a reward, though it is not of debt, but of grace. The child of God, like Moses, has “respect unto the recompense of the reward.” He does not run to win a crown by his own merit, but he runs knowing that there will be a crown given to him according to the love and goodness of the God of grace.

2. Now go an inch farther in the text: “A crown of life.” What must that be! What is life? To live means to be in health, to be in force, in joy, in fit condition, to have one’s whole self in order, and to enjoy all that surrounds you with all that is within you. God will give to all His people by and by such a crown of life. There shall be no sickness, no weakness, no dulness, no emptiness, no sense of depletion, nor of want; we shall be for ever filled with all the fulness of God. There shall be no pain, no misery, but a plenitude of enjoyment at His right hand where there are pleasures for evermore. We shall possess and enjoy all that manhood can desire. Life shall crown all. All your life shall be crowned; and all the crown shall be life! “A crown of life.” Does it not mean, however, as well a living crown? The crown they gave in the Olympic games soon faded. That bit of parsley, or olive, or laurel, was soon turned into faded leaves. But you shall have a living crown; that is to say, it shall never be taken from you, nor you from it. When yon sun grows pale with weariness; when his bright eye grows dim with age; when yonder moon shall redden into blood as her brightness is o’ershaded, then shall your crown be as resplendent as ever. Did you ever try to indulge a speculation as to what the crown of life shall be? I mean this: You have a bulb in your hand of an unknown plant. I have had several lately from Central Africa. The missionary said, “Put it in your stove-house”; and I did. It did not look to me worth a half a farthing; it was an uncomely root. But it bus developed large green leaves; it is growing rapidly; and “it doth not yet appear what it shall be.” I am speculating upon the colour of the flowers, and the form of the fruit. I guess by the delicate velvetness of its leaves that it is going to turn out something very remarkable; but I cannot prophesy what it will be. Man by nature is that uncomely bulb. When he dies, you know what a poor dried-up bulb he seems to those who lay him in his coffin. Yet even here, when God gives spiritual life, what a beautiful thing the Christian is! There is an amazing comeliness about the heavenly life even here below; yet we do not know what it is going to be. We know what spiritual life is, but we cannot guess what the flower of that life will be. Whatever it is to be, God will give that glory to those who by His grace endure temptation because they love Him. You gentlemen who believe in evolution, as I do not, tell us what a man will come to when God has sanctified him fully by His grace, and He has passed through ages of blessedness. What will he be when his life develops into the crown of life? We make poor guess-work of it. But I will tell you what I mean to do. I pray you follow me therein. I mean to go and see what this crown of life is like. We do not know what we shall be, but we have heard a soft whisper say, “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The discipline of temptation

We pray that we may not be led into temptation; and in using that prayer we acknowledge that it is an imperative duty not to go into temptation. And our Lord speaks more strongly of avoiding temptation than of almost any other duty, bidding us even cut off the right hand or pluck out the right eye, if the right hand or the right eye have proved a temptation. And our own experience agrees with this; and in too many instances where we have fallen, we are compelled to confess that we might have avoided the fall by avoiding the temptation. But still temptations are not scattered all about us without a purpose. As far as we can see, it is by temptations that we are educated. I do not mean that God could not educate us in any other way if He thought fit to do so; nor even that He does not educate some men altogether, and all men, in some degree, without temptations. But the exceptions are not to the point. If two men hold precisely the same principles, and mean to act in precisely the same way, and if one has been tempted to forsake those principles, and has withstood the temptation, and the other has never been tempted at all, then the principles and character of the two are in reality quite different. I do not mean merely that you do not yet know whether the untempted man is thoroughly sincere or not. I mean more than that. I mean that the passage through temptation actually makes a change in the man. The very same principles which he held before he was tempted he may, to all appearance, hold still; but though they are the same in form, and if you were to put them into words, you would have to put them into the same words, they are not the same in reality. The passage through the fire of temptation has ennobled--has sanctified them. Of course it will be inevitable, if we are to be disciplined by temptation, that we shall sometimes fall. How often, must depend on the energy with which we fight. But what is the use of seeking palliations? Seek as we may, the fact remains that here was the means provided by the Providence of God for disciplining our souls; and, instead of using it as we ought, we have made it an occasion for doing ourselves harm. What is the use of thinking what we might have done if we had not been tempted? It is silly for a man to talk to his own heart in a tone which implies that he could have contrived a better arrangement of the circumstances of his own life; and that if he were left to arrange his own trials and his own temptations he could give himself a proper discipline without the same dangers. We must take the circumstances of our lives as we find them, and make the best use of them. And if we have failed to make the best use of them, we must still learn not to lay the fault on them; for whatever they were, we might as well have done the best that could be done. Even after you have fallen you may still make a better use of the temptation than trying to lay the fault upon it. You may seek out how far you can avoid it, and take care to do so. Why, it there were no danger where would be the soldier’s honour or reward? where would be his means of proving his devotion to his duty? why should he even exist? And so too, without temptation, where would be the Christian’s crown? or why should we be Christians at all? A general does not send a soldier whom he cannot trust into a service of difficulty. Neither does Christ employ servants whom He does not love on difficult acts of obedience. On the other hand, it is very important to notice that it is not every apparent victory over temptation that is a real victory. There are two ways of resisting and overcoming temptation. You may turn away from the tempter with a cheerful, resolute will, heartily throwing yourself into your duty, endeavouring to find there, not your duty only, but your happiness also, turning out of your head cheerfully but resolutely even the thought which hankers after what is wrong. Or you may resist the temptation, and even overcome it, with anger at your heart, and an eager longing for the forbidden pleasure still ruling your soul; with eyes looking back to what you are quitting, with discontent at the hard duty which has divided you from your wish, with secret complaining and bitterness at the hardness of your trials. Now this last way of overcoming temptation is not that which St. James declares to be blessed. The type of the character is Balaam, the wicked prophet. He obeyed; exactly obeyed what he was plainly commanded. But it is clear as day that his obedience was merely outward. He did not surrender himself heart and soul to the command. Was he much benefited by having overcome the temptation of Balak’s offers? Or was he not rather hardened in a subtler but wickeder sinfulness? Yet this kind of victory is by no means uncommon. You are, for instance, plainly called to do some act of unselfishness. Your conscience points out to you that here is an occasion for self-sacrifice; perhaps not only points out that here is an occasion, but that hero is a distinct call which you cannot rightly turn away from. You are too conscientious not to listen to the call. You sacrifice your own wish to the wish, the pleasure, the feelings of others. But in what spirit? How very natural is it to indemnify one’s self, as it were, by cherishing an angry discontent at having been called on to make such a sacrifice; perhaps to despise the one who has benefited by it, even though he is not in the least degree conscious of the benefit; perhaps to long for some happy, turn of accident that shall make the sacrifice unnecessary, and give one the double satisfaction both of enjoying one’s wishes and of having sacrificed them; perhaps to brood over it often afterwards, and complain of one’s lot, or even of life altogether, so full as it is of hardships like these. How can we expect that unselfishness like this will strengthen the character, will bring us nearer to God. But the same issue is also possible in fighting with other temptations--temptations to vanity, frivolity, idleness; to indulgence of bodily appetite; to pride; to love of power; to wrong ambition, may be resisted, and may be overcome; and yet he that, overcometh may not be blessed, because he has not overcome the inward enemy but only the outward. The evil spirit may have been driven out, and vet may have left behind him a spirit of discontent to keep his place; and that spirit, if left unmolested, shall do as much harm as the spirit that has been expelled. To overcome temptation, not in outer act merely, but with heart and soul, that is what wins the crown of life; the crown emphatically of life, for he who has passed through temptations victorious, he it is who emphatically lives. He has in him the richness of his own experience. He is not using words without meaning, or words with a vague, hazy, indistinct idea, when he speaks of the battle of the Christian,. or of the help of his Redeemer. His principles are not mere sentiments, but living powers, whose strength has been tried and proved. His doctrines are not mere forms of speech; they correspond with needs of his soul, which he has probed to the bottom in the hour of difficulty. The Bible is not to him a beautiful and awful book, full of wonderful promises which sound like words in a foreign tongue, full of awful threatenings which seem too fearful to be literally true; but a record of realities into which he has himself entered, a world of spirits where he can find his own place, see his own work, obtain his own helps. This is the crown which buds here and blossoms hereafter, and fills all the soul on which it falls with the power of its beauty; and this crown is given to him who, when temptations come, gives himself mind and soul, and will and heart, to fulfil the law of Christ. (Bp. Temple.)

Trials endured

1. Afflictions do not make the people of God miserable. There is a great deal of difference between a Christian and a man of the world: his best estate is vanity (Psalms 39:5); and a Christian’s worst is happiness.

(1) Afflictions cannot diminish his happiness. In the greatest want of earthly things there is happiness, and comfort enough in a covenant-interest.

(2) Sometimes afflictions increase their happiness, as they occasion more comfort and further experience of grace: God seldom afflicted in vain. They that count God their chiefest good know no other evil but the darkening of His countenance; in all other cases, “Blessed is he that endureth”: they lose nothing by affliction but their sins.

2. Of all afflictions those are sweetest which we endure for Christ’s sake.

(1) That it be for Christ.

(2) That your heart be right for Christ. The form of religion may many times draw a persecution upon itself, as well as the power; the world hateth both, though the form less. Oh! how sad is it that a man cometh to suffer, and he hath nothing to bear him out but an empty form.

3. Before crowning there must he a trial. The trial doth not merit heaven, but always goeth before it. Before we are brought to glory, God will first wean us from sin and the world, which the apostle calleth a being “made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12). He that passeth his life without trial knoweth not himself, nor hath opportunity to discover his uprightness.

4. It is good to oppose the glory of our hopes against the abasure of our sufferings. Here are trials, but we look for a crown of glory.

5. No enduring is acceptable to God but such as doth arise from love. The victory is less over outward inconveniences than inward lusts; for these, being more rooted in our nature, are more hardly overcome. (T. Manton.)

The blessedness of enduring temptation

BLESSED IS THE MAN THAT ENDURETH TEMPTATION! The same word means both trial and temptation. And it is not at all surprising that there should be but one expression for these two things, because though the things seem to be different, yet the difference is more in appearance than in reality. At all events, they generally accompany each other: trials, very commonly, prove temptations to sin; and temptations, when rightly viewed, are the very heaviest of all trials. The temptations, however, of which St. James is speaking were what we more usually denominate trials. They were the outward troubles and persecutions attending a Christian life in his days. Persecution became a temptation to the man to go back, to give up his Christian profession, and return to the world. I might specify many other things which are felt to be trials, and which actually are temptations. But these are sufficient to show how extensively the language of St. James may be applied. Let us, then, apply it to ourselves. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation! But let us come more particularly to religious trials. Every man among you knows, in his conscience, that he ought to seek, above all things, the salvation of his soul. You feel convinced, whenever you think upon these subjects, that it is your duty to repent, to believe in Christ Jesus, to lead a holy life, and to separate yourself, so far as may be practicable, from worldly and irreligious companions. But there are many difficulties attending such a course of life. Still, however, you know that these difficulties do not alter the real state of the case. They may tempt you to disregard religion.

THE CROWN OF LIFE WHICH IS HERE HELD FORTH TO THE MAN THAT ENDURETH TEMPTATION HAD BEEN PREVIOUSLY PROMISED, IT SHOULD SEEM, TO THEIR THAT LOVE THE LORD. This is, in fact, but another expression describing the same characters. It will supply us, however, with further materials for examining whether we ourselves are of the happy number. Do we, then, love the Lord? Surely, if such be really our character, there will be some clear manifest tokens of this Divine affection visible in our conduct. Love is a feeling which cannot dwell in the heart without producing a perceptible influence upon a man’s whole behaviour towards the person whom he loves. On this part of my subject let me give you one necessary caution. God must be loved according to His real character, and not according to any imaginary character which, in our ignorance, we may think fit to ascribe to Him. He must be loved as a God that hateth all sin, and as a God who has given His only Son to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Some think Him “a God all mercy”--too kind to punish a single sin. (J. Jowett, M. A.)

Strength through trial

The hardy fir-tree that stands the bitter blast on some mountain side is a nobler object than the delicate hot-house exotic. (J. W.Hardman, LL. D.)

Christ tried

It is recorded of the great soldier, the gallant Moutrose, that, finding his followers ill provided with armour, he stripped off breastplate and steel cap, with his stout leathern coat, and rode into battle in his bared shirt sleeves, at the head of his men, to show them that he scorned to use defences which they could not avail of. Even so our Great Captain laid aside the panoply of heaven, and as a man entered into the conflict. (J. W.Hardman, LL. D.)

Trial increases usefulness

There is said to be at Birmingham a department where every rifle is tested before it is sent out. At Greenwich Observatory there is a room where the multitude of ships’ chronometers are daily corrected and observed, until, being fully tested, they are sent forth as of value and satisfactory usefulness. (J. W. Hardman, LL. D.)

Tried Christians useful

When Napoleon felt that the crisis had come at Waterloo, when the fate of the battle might be decided by one great effort, he ordered the Old Guard to advance, the tried veterans who had followed his eagles from the Nile to the walls of Moscow, and on whose courage and steadiness he could rely to the utmost. (J. W. Hardman, LL. D.)

The flag nailed to the mast

At Trafalgar, Nelson ordered the flag of England to be nailed to the mast of his ship, so that it was not possible for it to be hauled down. Such should be the firm resolve of the Christian, as he reflects on the threefold array--the ranks of the world, the flesh, and the devil--drawn up against him. (J. W. Hardman, LL. D.)

Blessing in trial

There are four possible experiences in regard to the trials of life.

1. They may fail of that which may be their best result. We may have the troubles of life--indeed, we must have them--and yet we may fail of the discipline.

2. They may be made seductions to evil, and yielded to.

3. They may be suffered just as brutes suffer pain.

4. They may be “endured.” Blessed is the man who has this last experience, who accepts the troubles of life as trims, who endures them, going on his way of duty as speedily in the storm as in the sunshine, obeying the injunction, “Let those who weep be as though they wept not.” These are the blessed ones. There is no blessing for the untried man, as there is no currency for the unstamped bullion--for the metal, however precious, which is not marked so as to show that is has been tested and is now approved. There is no blessing for the man who yields to temptation or fails under trial. There is no blessing to him who has brutal insensibility to the pains of trial, or unconsciousness of the process, as the anvil is unconscious of the blows of the hammer. But there is a blessing for the man who knows what is going forward; who understands the intent, and appreciates the object, and desires the result of the process. For when he has become approved, after the testing and by reason of the testing, “he shall receive the crown of life.” (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

Advantage of temptation

I find it most true that the greatest temptation out of hell is to live without temptations; if any waters could stand they would rot; Faith is the better for the free air and the sharp winter storm in its face; grace withereth without adversity. The devil is but God’s master-fencer, to teach us to handle our weapons. (S. Rutherford.)

The good life exposed to temptation

Let no man think himself to be holy because he is not tempted, for the holiest and highest in life have the most temptations. How much the higher a hill is, so much is the wind there greater; so, how much higher the life is, so much stronger is the temptation of the enemy. (Wycliffe.)

The need of testing

No chain is stronger than its weakest link; no boiler is stronger than its weakest plate; no character is stronger than its weakest point. (F. M. Miller.)

Divine testing

At certain seasons the authorities at the mint go through a certain ceremony, which is to ascertain if the coin issued is true and genuine. So does God try us, to prove whether we be sterling metal, bearing His image and superscription, or base metal of the devil’s coining. We have all read how they try the great guns before they use them in the Queen’s service. So God tries us, to prove whether we are fit for the service of Christ’s militant here on earth. As the brightest jewels have to be cut and ground, and some tried in a fierce fire, so the brightest gems, on the day when God makes up His jewels, will be those people who have suffered, and passed through the fire of affliction, of whom it can be said, “blessed is the man that endureth temptation.” (H. J.Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)

Temptation does not create evil

The wandering Hindoo’s pipe, that draws the serpents out of their holes, did not put them there, neither do the temptations which draw out the evil of the heart put the evil there, but only show it. Christ’s scrip, with His own and His disciples’ little store, did not make Judas the thief he was. It was his lust, his love of money, that made him gladly undertake the trust which, if he had known his own leanings, he would have declined. It was his covetousness, his love of money, which “is the root of all evil,” that led him to pilfer from his Master’s store. It was his “lust” that made him indignant that that large sum should be lavished on Christ’s person, which he said would have been better spent upon the poor, but which he meant would have been better than either in his own hands. (W. W.Champneys, M. A.)

Benefit of adversity

A smooth sea never made a skilful mariner; neither do uninterrupted prosperity and success qualify for usefulness and happiness. The storms of adversity, like those of the ocean, rouse the faculties, and excite the inventions, prudence, skill, and fortitude of the voyager. The martyrs of ancient times, in bracing their minds to outward calamities, acquired a loftiness of purpose and moral heroism worth a lifetime of softness and security.

The benefits of affliction

Afflictions are God’s most effectual means to keep us from losing our way to our heavenly rest. Without this hedge of thorns on the right and left we should hardly keep the way to heaven. If there be but one gap open, how ready are we to find it and turn out at it! When we grow wanton, or worldly, or proud, how doth sickness or other affliction reduce us? Every Christian as well as Luther, may call affliction one of his best schoolmasters, and with David may say, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept Thy word.” Many thousand recovered sinners may cry, O healthful sickness! O comfortable sorrows! O gainful hope! O enriching poverty! O blessed day that ever I was afflicted! Not only the green pastures and still waters, but the rod and staff, they comfort us. Though the Word and Spirit do the main work, yet suffering so unbolts the door of the heart that the Word hath easier entrance. (R. Baxter.)

Trial a source of fruitfulness

After a forest fire has raged furiously, it has been found that many pine-cones have had their seeds released by the heat, which ordinarily would have remained unsown. The future forest sprang from the ashes of the former. Some Christian graces, such as humility, patience, sympathy, have been evolved from the sufferings of the saints. The furnace has been used to fructify.

He shall receive the crown of life

The crowning of patient endurance

Temptation, a testing, As INEVITABLE EXPERIENCE, a necessity of our condition. Needful to prove us, and develop strength and symmetry of character. Teaches us to feel for others.

Temptation to be STEADFASTLY ENDURED TILL CONQUERED. Yielding is weakening. Love endures, God’s grace sustains.

CROWNING OF THE CONQUERER. Not of merit, but grace. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)

The tempted soul crowned

First of all, we shall take a view of THE TRIED BELIEVER, because he belongs to a very large class of God’s family. The buffetings of Satan. What a mercy it is that all he can do is to buffet us. He has buffeted me about my belief. Ah, they are high doctrines, and crude notions. Then he will buffet the Church of God about their birthright. Ah, it is all presumption, he will tell you. How do you know that you are born of God? Go on to the blessings. Satan will buffet us about them. The promises, the spirit of adoption, the joys of God’s salvation. Very precious all these; but has the devil never said to you, “These are only the movings of the natural passions”? Now I pass on from these things, though I might write a volume upon them, and look, under the term “tempted,” at life’s calamities, and exercises, and cares. But just go on to mark the exercise of experimental conflicts. I presume my hearers are fully aware that every corruption belonging to the old Adam nature is at war with, and will be at war with, every grace of the Holy Spirit. Now for the sustaining power by which we endure. Why have not you and I made shipwreck of faith? We would have done so long ago but for that sustaining power of which the Lord spake by the prophet, “Fear not, for when thou passeth through the fire, I wilt be with thee, and the flames shall not kindle upon thee; and through the floods, they shall not overflow thee, I will uphold thee, I will sustain thee with the right hand of My righteousness.” “Blessed is the man that endureth,”--patiently, with resignation, I may add with satisfaction. To endure with patience. “It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth Him good.” To endure with resignation. “Good is the word of the Lord concerning me.” To endure with anticipation. “When He has tried me, I shall come forth like gold.” This is what I call enduring; not merely bearing because I must bear, and cannot help myself, but approving the will of God; and the point I want to reach is that which I last named--satisfaction. My faith has got it, but my feelings have not,. Well, then, I want to endure so as to suck some honey out, as Samson did.

Now about THE HIGH ATTAINMENT. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him.” With regard to the word “tried,” I take a different view of it altogether to that which we have just indulged in with regard to temptation. I understood it in the very same way that I understand that portion of Scripture in which it is said, “It came to pass that the Lord tempted Abraham when he was tried”; and if you read the sequel, you can come to no other conclusion than that it means that He put his graces to the test; and I believe that all our temptations, all our trials, are intended for this very purpose, that the Spirit’s graces may be put to the test as to whether they are genuine. You must be aware that there is much among professing multitudes in our day that is spurious. Well, now, how shall we know whether they are genuine or spurious? “When he is tried.” There is a blessedness in this. The devil may take his bellows, and blow the fire, and bring his fuel, and ply his temptations--there is faith in lively exercise. “He is my Lord and my God.” There is hope entering into that within the veil--there is love glowing, so that the very mention of the name of Jesus, so dear to me, brought a flood of tears of delight. So of all the other graces. I tell you, it is in this way that the believer is blessed as well as tried. His graces are tried, to see whether they are genuine; and if they are proved to be so, they will endure, they will shine brighter, after all they have been called to experience. Then mark the establishment, the establishment of the soul in every feature of vital godliness. That is true blessedness. I suppose you have read that sweet Scripture of the apostle, “It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace, and not with meats.” Now I meet with but few established Christians. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation.” If temptations kill his religion, the sooner it is killed the better, but if his religion endure the temptation he shall get the blessedness, and stand fast in the Lord, in the power of His might. O how precious is Christ to such a soul! A. word more here. The Divine glory is and must be thus promoted. Referring again to be good old patriarch, it is written, that he was “strong in faith, giving glory to God.”

Now ABOUT THE END. “When he is tried he shall receive the crown of life.” “The crown of life.” There are many crowns spoken of in the Scripture. The Church in the Apocalypse is exhorted to hold fast that which she had, that no man “take her crown”--her crown of distinction, and dignity, and attainment. Our Lord Himself was seen wearing many crowns--but these are not to our point. Then again He was crowned with thorns. What a mercy that you and I can never be crowned with them. He may mean that life which is manifested in this world first of all--and there is a crown--for if spiritual life be uppermost, and Divine life the life of God in the soul, it contains the idea of reigning--a crown--“The crown of life.” A man may have mental life, but it is not worth calling a crown. He may be crowned in some attainments with honours, literary honours, and the like, but to have a crown of life is to have a life that is supernatural, the life of God in the soul--life that cannot live on earth without visiting heaven every day--a life that shall last for ever--a life that lives upon spiritual and eternal realities--a life of a dignified description. But I apprehend the precise meaning to be the crown of eternity which the apostle elsewhere calls a crown of glory. It cannot be withheld. What is that poor tired soul, tempted, harassed, ready to die in this wilderness journey to be crowned? Ah! but he must strive first, and he must strive lawfully. Just mark further here, that this crown is appointed and said in my text to be given. And who is it to be given by? “The Lord.” The Lord hath promised it. He never promises without giving--His promises and performances are always inseparable, But do just mark the naming of the recipients--“Them that love Him.” It is not to them that hate Him--it is “to them that love Him.” It is not to them that care nothing about Him--not to them that are strangers to Him--it is “to them that love Him.” Ask then the question, Do I really love the Lord--love Him so as to take Him at His word--love Him so as to delight in no company like His--love Him so as to cleave to Him with purpose of heart--love Him so as to lay out my life to honour, and exalt, and glorify Him. (J. Irons.)

The crown of life

We always associate with the term “crown” the idea of living in power, affluence, honour, and glory. But such a life, the reward of the tried sufferer, does it lie on this or the other side of death? My friends, from fuels which fall under our own observation, we learn, that as it seldom goes well with the ungodly to the end of his days, but punishment seizes him even here below, so the afflictions of the righteous often reach their termination on earth, and he receives a partial recompense for the sufferings he his undergone in earthly prosperity. But will such instances authorise us to say that he who has been proved in tribulation, who has kept the faith, and exercised patience under the chastening hand of God, will be certainly recompensed by a day of sunshine and prosperity, and at last succeed in his wishes and undertakings, and that this will form “the crown of life” of which our text speaks? God has not promised the reward of earthly prosperity to those who love Him, nor do the Scriptures term it a crown of life. Must we then say that it is delayed till after the death of the Christian sufferer or conqueror? It is true that St. Paul says, (2 Timothy 4:7-8). But he had referred just before, in explicit terms, to his approaching death. “The time of my departure is at hand”; and thus the crown of righteousness was his consolation, when he had nothing more to expect in and from this earthly life. Yet do not the beatitudes at the beginning of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount relate to the present life? and does not St. Paul declare “godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come?” “He that believeth on the Son of God hath everlasting life.” Yes, such is the fact. Have we learned in our humiliation to glory in our exaltation, and in our exaltation to glory in our humiliation? Do we endure the manifold temptations to which we are exposed, and preserve our faith unimpaired? How glorious is the crown of life, even already on our heads, invisible to men of the world, who are sensible only of external pomp and splendour, but visible to the children of God, to whom Divine wisdom is justified in all her ways. Only let this crown adorn us, and we will consent to.lie in the dust, the scorn and by-word of the people. Our apostle was stoned to death; but among the martyrs his countenance would appear like that of the first martyr, Stephen, “as the face of an angel.” That was his crown here below. That adorable head, which on earth had not a place where to lay itself, wore no visible crown but a crown of thorns; but those who looked upon it with the eye of faith, beheld it still replendent with the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even when He hung upon the Cross; and that was His crown even on earth. But at the right hand of God His crown shines still more gloriously; and there also the crown of the Christian will shine with its full lustre. (B. Jacobi.)

Verses 13-15

James 1:13-15

Let no man say,… I am tempted of God

The temptation not from God



1. “God cannot be tempted of evil.”

(1) The absolute and infinite self-sufficiency of His blessedness. That blessedness is altogether independent of every other being whatever besides Himself. It is full: incapable of either diminution or increase: springing as it does from the infinite perfection of His own immutable nature. He can never have anything for which to hope; and never anything to fear.

(2) He is placed beyond all such possibility by the absolute perfection of His moral nature. “God cannot be tempted with evil.” His nature is necessarily and infinitely opposed to everything of the kind; and to such a nature what is sinful or impure never can present aught capable of exerting even the remotest influence.

2. “Neither tempteth He any man.”

(1) God tempts no man, by presenting to him inducements, motives, persuasives, to sin.

(2) God tempts no man by any direct inward influence; by infusing evil thoughts, inclinations, and desires.

(3) God “tempteth not any man” by placing him in circumstances in which he is laid under a natural necessity of stoning.


“Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God”; “for God tempteth no man: “or to put it according to the order of thought we have chosen to follow--“God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man: let no man therefore say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.” It is because every such thought of God is impious, that the saying is condemned as impious. The delusion before us is one of the most fearful palliations of sin, and opiates to the conscience, that the deceitful heart of man has ever suggested. But, if conscience is allowed to speak in sincerity, its utterance will be--“I am a voluntary sinner. No extraneous force has kept me back from good; no such force has compelled me to evil. I have followed my own inclinations. My heart and my will have been in all the evil I have done. It is all my own.”

1. Let the unbelieving sinner beware of imagining that the guilt of his rejecting the gospel lies anywhere else than with himself.

2. There is one view in which you would do well to remember God “cannot be tempted with evil.” He can never be induced to act, in any step of His procedure, inconsistently with any attribute of His character, or, in a single jot or tittle, to sacrifice the claims of the purest moral rectitude.

THE TRUE NATURE OF TEMPTATION. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” In this description temptation is to be understood as relating to the state of the mind between the moment of the first entrance of the sinful thought, and the actual commission of the evil;--the state of the mind while the enticement is working within among the hidden desires and appetencies of the heart, exerting there its seductive influence. “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust.” This is evidently meant to be emphatic. It refers back to the preceding verse--“Let no man say, I am tempted of God”: God “tempteth not any man.” The “lust” by which he is tempted, is not of God: it is “his own lust.” And all evil that is in man is his own. Within our own hearts are seated many evil desires. The devil needs not introduce them. There they are. He acts upon them, no doubt, in his own mysterious and insidious way. But the extraneous operations of a tempter are not at all required to stir up their evil exercise. They work of themselves. From all the objects around us, that are fitted to gratify those desires, our senses are so many inlets of temptation to our hearts. Nor are even our senses necessary to the admission of temptation. The imagination can work independently of them, And both in waking and in sleeping hours, many a time is it busy in summoning tempting scenes before them. The principle of the words before us may be applied alike to prosperity and adversity. In adversity, “our own lusts” may tempt us to “charge God foolishly,” and that too both in our hearts and with our lips; and thus to give sinful indulgence to ungodly tempers of mind. Then again, in the time of prosperity; “our own lust” may often tempt us to the abuse of it. We may be led to forget God, at the very time when His accumulated kindnesses give Him the stronger claim on our grateful and devout remembrance. We may give, in our hearts, the place of the Giver to His gifts.

THE FEARFUL CONSEQUENCES OF YIELDING TO TEMPTATION. “When lust hath conceived.” The obvious meaning of the figurative allusion is, that when the evil desire is admitted into the mind, and, instead of being resisted, prayed against, and driven out, is retained, fostered, indulged, and through dwelling upon the object of it, grows in strength, and at length is fully matured, it will come forth in action; as after the period of gestation and growth, the child in the womb comes to the birth. The lust, having thus conceived, “bringeth forth sin”; that is, produces practical transgression--sin in the life--actual departure from the way of God’s commandments. “And sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” That God’s righteousness may not only condemn justly, but appear as condemning justly, the sentence is thus connected with the act--with the effect and manifestation of the evil principle. But the very language implies that the sin did not begin with the act: it is finished in the act; and the evil of the act concentrates in it all the previous evil of the thoughts, desires, and motives from which it arose, and by which it was ultimately matured into action. The “death”--that death which is “the wages of sin”--follows on the commission of it, as surely as, in nature, the birth follows the conception.

THE IMPORTANCE OF FORMING AND CHERISHING RIGHT, AND OF AVOIDING WRONG, CONCEPTIONS ON THIS SUBJECT. “Do not err, my beloved brethren.” It is as if the apostle had said--“Beware of mistakes here.” And certainly there are few subjects on which it is of more essential consequence to have correct ideas, or on which misapprehensions are more perilous. The thought that is specially reprobated in the passage which has been under review is one which cannot fail to affect all the principles, and feelings, and practices of the Christian life. It affects our views of God: and these lie at the foundation of all religion. According as they are right or wrong, must our religion be right or wrong, it must equally affect our views of ourselves--of ourselves as sinners; inasmuch as all the penitential humiliation, all the contrite broken-heartedness, on account of our sins, which we ever ought to feel, lose entirely their ground, and are inevitably gone, the moment we say, or think, that “we are tempted of God”--that in any way our sin and guilt are attributable to Him. It must, in the same way, affect our conceptions of sin itself; of its “exceeding sinfulness” and unutterable guilt. And thus it will affect our views of our need of a Saviour; and especially of such a Saviour, and such a salvation, as the gospel reveals.

1. Let believers be impressed with the necessity of unceasing vigilance over their own hearts. Their worst enemies are in their own bosoms.

2. Let all consider the necessity of the heart being right with God. It is only in a holy heart, a heart renewed by the Spirit, a heart of which the lusts are laid under arrest, and crucified, that He can dwell.

3. Ponder seriously the certain consequences of unrepented and unforgiven sin: and by immediate recourse to the Cross, and to the blood there shed for the remission of sins, shun the fearful end which otherwise awaits you. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

The workings of sin


WE ARE TAUGHT HOW SURELY THE EVIL PRINCIPLE WILL WORK IN THE HEART, IF UNCHECKED AND UNRESTRAINED, TILL IT HAS BROUGHT FORTH FRUIT UNTO DEATH. Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. It is the internal desire which gives temptation its power over man. Were there no appetite for the intoxicating liquor, the cup which contains it would be offered in vain. Were there no covetous desire, the prospect of gain would be no temptation to deviate from the path of rectitude. In every case it is the state of the heart which gives to temptation its power to subdue. Its suddenness may surprise into transgression, but when its success is owing entirely to this circumstance, repentance may be expected quickly to arise. The case supposed in the text is not of this nature. The temptation is embraced and followed. The sinner is “drawn away of his own lust and enticed” to his ruin. The stronger the sinful propensity has become by indulgence, the greater is the power which every corresponding temptation has to overcome him. He is the less disposed, and therefore the less able to resist. Pleasure in some form is the bait that hides the hook by which he is drawn and enticed. The death which is the end of sin will therefore be of as long duration as the life which is the fruit of holiness. It will not be an arbitrary undeserved punishment, but the wages of sin, its proper desert. Such is the death which sic, when it is finished, bringeth forth.

WE LEARN HOW EASILY GOD CAN BRING SIN TO LIGHT. Should sin escape detection in this life, we know that nothing can be concealed from the eye of God, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of all hearts. The day shall declare every man’s work of what sort it is. Every one must give an account of himself to God, must narrate his own proceedings, and unfold his own character, before an assembled universe.


WE LEARN THAT NOTHING CAN BE MORE WRONG THAN FOR ANY MAN TO THROW THE BLAME OF HIS SINS UPON GOD. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.” The all-wise, pure, perfect, self-sufficient, almighty Creator and Ruler of the universe can be under no temptation to evil, neither can He place temptation in the way of any one to induce him to sin. This would be to act in direct contrariety to His own nature. A wicked man may say, “If God has given me such passions how can I help being led astray by them?” God has not given you such passions; you have given them to yourself. The desires He gave you were needful to the great purposes of human existence. Without them the powers of man could not be called into action. You have perverted them, and allowed them to gain the mastery over reason, conscience, and religion. Suppose a friend recommended to you a servant whom he had uniformly found, after a long trial, faithful and obedient, and you had spoiled that servant, after taking him into your service, by every unwarrantable indulgence, till he had tyrannised over you, and wasted your property, would you have any right to complain of your friend for recommending him, would not the blame rest entirely with yourself? Everything becomes a temptation to a depraved heart--prosperity or adversity; wealth or poverty; success or disappointment. On the other hand, “All things work together for good to them that love God, and are the called according to His purpose.”

Finally, WE LEARN, THAT SUCH BEING THE DEPRAVITY OF MAN, THERE IS NO SECURITY FROM THE RUIN WHICH SIN WILL INEVITABLY BITING UPON THE TRANSGRESSOR, BUT IN THAT COMPLETE RENOVATION OF OUR NATURE WHICH IN SCRIPTURE IS CALLED REGENERATION--A NEW CREATION. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh”--corrupt in its tendencies. But, “whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin because he is born of God.” (Essex Remembrancer.)

The sinner’s progress

Archbishop Trench points out that many words, which when first used bad an innocent and even commendable meaning, have come by use to carry a doubtful or malignant sense; and in this degradation of our words he sees a proof and illustration of human depravity. The word “temptation,” both in Greek and English, is a case in point. According to its derivation and original use, the word simply means “test,” whatever tends to excite, to draw out and bring to the surface, the hidden contents of the heart, whatever serves to indicate the ruling bent. But in process of time the word has come to have a darker significance. For if there is much that is good in us, there is also much that is evil. And because, in their intercourse with each other, men are too often bent on provoking that which is evil in each other, rather than on eliciting and strengthening that which is good, the word “temptation” has sunk from its original plane, and has come to signify mainly such testings and trials of character as are designed to draw out the evil that is in us; trials and tests skilfully adapted to our besetting infirmities, and likely to develop the lower and baser qualities of our nature. It is because of this double meaning of the word that we meet in Scripture such apparently contradictory phrases as, “Lead us not into temptation,” and, ‘ “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” It is in this double meaning of the word, moreover, that we find the key to the apparently contradictory statements that God does tempt men, and that He does not tempt them. He does tempt us all in the sense that He puts us all to the proof, and compels us at times to see what manner of men we are. But if, in this sense, God tempts every man, there is a sense in which “He tempts no man.” For it is never the design of the trials to which He puts us to bring out and confirm that which is evil in us. It is always His purpose to bring out and confirm that which is good in us; or, if He show us wherein we are weak, it is not that we may remain weak and foolish, but that we may seek and find strength and wisdom in Him. When we have fallen into “temptation,” in the bad sense of that word--when, that is, we have yielded to an evil influence, and have suffered our baser passions to be excited--we are apt to say, “I am tempted of God,” to plead: “Well, after all, He made me what I am. Am I to blame for my passionate temperament, or for the strength and fierceness of my desires?” Or, again, we say: “Circumstances were against me. The opportunity was too tempting, my need or my craving was too importunate, to be resisted. And are not our circumstances and condition appointed by Him?” Thus we charge God foolishly, knowing and feeling all the while that it is we ourselves who are to blame whenever the lower part of our nature is permitted a supremacy against which the higher part protests. God tempts no man, affirms St. James, and assigns as a reason, “for God is unversed in evil,” or, “God is incapable of evil,” or, “God is untemptable with evil”; for in these three several ways this one word is translated. His implied argument is sufficiently clear, however we may render his words. What he assumes is, “Every one who tempts another to do evil must have some evil in his own nature. But there is no shadow or taint of evil in God, and therefore it is impossible that God should tempt any man.” But if the evil temptations we have to encounter do not come from God, whence do they come? St. James replies, “Every man is tempted when he is drawn aside of his own lust, and enticed”--the man’s lust being here conceived of as a harlot who lavishes her blandishments upon him; “then the lust, having conceived, bringeth forth sin; and the sin, when it is mature, bringeth forth death.” The origin of sin is in man’s own breast, in his own hot and extravagant desires for any kind of temporal or sensual good; and the apostle traces the sinner’s career through the successive steps that lead down to death.

1. First, the man is drawn aside. James conceives of him as occupied with his daily task, busily discharging the duties of his daily calling. While be is thus engaged, a craving for some unlawful or excessive gratification, for a gain that cannot be honestly secured, or an indulgence which cannot be taken soberly and in the fear of God, springs up within his mind. The craving haunts his mind, and takes form in it. He bends his regards on it, and is drawn towards it. At first, perhaps, his will is firm, and he refuses to yield to its attraction. But the craving is very strong; it touches him at his weak point. And when it comes back to him again and again, it swells and grows into what St. James calls a “lust.” It is “his own lust,” the passion most native to him, and most potent with such as he--the love of gain, or the love of rule, or the love of distinction, or some affection of a baser strain. For a time tie may resist its fascination; but ere long his work is laid aside, the claims of duty are neglected, the warnings of conscience unheeded. All he means is to get a nearer view of this strange, alluring visitor, to lift its veil, to see what it is like and for what intent it beckons him away. And so he takes his first step: he is drawn aside from the clear and beaten path of duty.

2. Then he is enticed, “allured,” as the Greek word implies, “with pleasant baits.” His craving waxes stronger, the object of desire more attractive, as he advances. All specious excuses--all that moralists have allowed or bold transgressors have claimed--are urged upon him, until at last his scruples are overborne, and he yields himself a willing captive to his lust.

3. Then lust” conceives.” The will consents to the wish ‘ the evil desire grows toward an evil deed. He can know no rest till his craving be gratified. The good work in which he was occupied looks tame and wearisome to him. He is fevered by passion, and absorbed in 2:4. Having conceived, “lust bringeth forth sin.” The bad purpose has become a bad deed, and the bad deed is followed by its natural results. Coming to the light, his evil deeds may be reproved. When the sin is born, the man may recognise his guilt. He may repent, and be forgiven and restored.

5. But if he do not turn and repent, the last step will be taken, and sin, being matured, will bring forth death. Action will grow into habit, the sinful action into a habit of sinning. As sin grows and matures, it will rob him of his energy. He will no longer make a stand against temptation. He will wholly surrender himself to his lust, until all that makes him man dies out of him, and only the fierce, brutal craving remains. Hogarth has left us a familiar series of pictures entitled “The Rake’s Progress,” in which the career of a profligate spendthrift is sketched from its commencement to its close. Were I an artist, I would paint you a similar series on a kindred but wider theme--the Sinner’s Progress. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Temptations to evil not from God

Now, affliction is an evil of which God Himself is the author, very consistently with the perfect purity of His nature, and with the tenderest compassion for His servants: “Whom He loveth, He rebuketh and chasteneth”; and the design is worthy of supreme goodness as well as rectitude, for it is to try the virtues of the afflicted in order to strengthen them, that they may be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7). But there is another kind of temptation here spoken of, of which God is not the author or cause. The meaning of this, certainly, is a solicitation to sin; when the intention is not to prove the sincerity of feeble virtue in order to confirm and increase it, but to subvert and destroy it; to draw the weak and unwary into wickedness which leadeth to their ruin. This is what the perfectly holy and good God is not capable of.

THAT GOD IN ALL HIS WORKS AND WAYS, THE WHOLE OF HIS ADMINISTRATION TOWARDS MANKIND, STANDETH PERFECTLY CLEAR OF TEMPTING THEM TO MORAL EVIL. He is not in the least degree, or by a fair construction, in any part of His conduct, accessary to any one of their offences. But all religion resteth upon this principle, utterly inconsistent with His tempting any man or any creature, that God is only pleased with rational” agents doing that which is right, and displeased with their doing what is wrong in a moral sense: if that be denied, piety is entirely subverted, and all practice of virtue on the foundation of piety. A being who is wholly incapable of any moral turpitude, cannot solicit any others to it, nor give them the least countenance in it, which must always necessarily suppose a corrupt affection. Another of the Divine attributes is goodness, equally essential to his character, but if God be good, He cannot tempt any man.

2. Let us proceed to consider the works of God which relate to man, and we shall be convinced that far from having a tendency, or showing a design, to draw him into sin, which is tempting him, on the contrary, they provide against it in the best manner. And, first, if we look into the human constitution, which is the work of God, this sense of right and wrong discovereth itself early; it is not the result of mature reflection, close reasoning, and long study, but it plainly appeareth that the gracious author of our being intended to prevent us with it, that we should not be ‘led astray before our arriving at the full exercise of our understanding. To this sense of good and evil, there is added in our constitution a strong enforcement of the choice, and the practice of the former, in that high pleasure of self-approbation which is naturally and inseparably annexed to it. Must it not be acknowledged, then, that the frame of our nature prompteth to the practice of virtue at its proper end, and that the designing cause of it did not intend to tempt us to evil, but to provide against our being tempted? It is true that liberty is a part of the constitution, which importeth a power of doing evil, and by which it is that we are rendered capable of it. This, as well as the other capacities of our nature, is derived from God; but there is no rational profence for alleging that gift to be a temptation, because liberty is not an inclination to evil, but merely the mind’s power of determining itself to that, or the contrary, according as the motives to the one or the other should appear strongest; and that the author of the constitution hath cast the balance on the side of virtue, we may see from what hath been already said, since tie hath given us virtuous instincts, with a sense of moral obligations, and added a very powerful sanction to them. Besides, liberty is absolutely necessary to the practice of virtue, as well as to the being of moral evil; nor could we without it have been capable of rational happiness.

3. Again, if we consider the administration of providence, and the Divine conduct towards all men, we shall find that the same design is regularly pursued by methods becoming the wisdom of God, and best suited to our condition; the design, I mean, not of tempting us to sin, but preserving us from it. As God sent men into the world, a species of rational beings, fitted by the excellent faculties wherewith He endued them for rendering Him very important service, and enjoying a great measure of happiness, so He constantly careth for that favourite workmanship of His hands. Of all the nations of men who are made to dwell on the face of the earth, none are without witness of their Maker’s mercies, for He continually doth them good, “sending them rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, and filling their hearts with food and gladness.” Now if such kindness be the character of the Divine administration, what is the tendency of it? Is it to tempt men, to lead them to sin, which is rebellion against Himself, and against their own reason? But when men had wilfully corrupted their ways, and turned the bounty of God into lasciviousness, Providence hath sometimes interposed in a different manner, that is, by awful judgments suddenly spread over nations or cities.

4. And, lastly, if we consider the revelation of the gospel, and that whole Divine scheme contained in it, which God in love to mankind hath formed for our salvation, we must see that the whole design of it is directly opposite to the design of tempting; it is to turn every one of us from our iniquities. But for the general tenor of the Divine administration towards men, it designedly favoureth their escape from temptations, and directeth them to the paths of virtue (1 Corinthians 10:13). Some, indeed, to shun the dangerous mistake of imputing sin and temptation to God as in any respect its cause, have run into the opposite equally absurd extreme of withdrawing moral evil altogether from under God’s government of the world, and deriving it from an original independent evil principle; which scheme, as it destroyeth the true notion of vice representing it not as the voluntary act of imperfect intelligent beings, but as flowing from an independent necessity of nature. The generality of Christians, owning the unity of God, do also acknowledge His perfect purity and goodness, and in words, at least, deny Him to be the author of sin: but I am afraid the opinions received among some of them are not perfectly consistent with these true principles. For instance, to represent the nature of men as so corrupted, without any personal fault of theirs, that they are under a fatal necessity of sinning, and that it is utterly impossible for them to do anything which is good. What thoughts can a man have of this, but that it is the appointed condition of his being, to be resolved ultimately into the will of his Maker, just like the shortness of his understanding, the imperfection of his senses, or even the frailty of his body?

The counsels of God concerning men’s sins, and the agency of His providence about them, not in overruling the issue, but in ascertaining and by its influence determining them, as intending events, ought also to be considered with the utmost caution.

1. And, first of all, that God is not tempted with evil, neither tempteth any man, tendeth to preserve in our minds the highest esteem and reverence for Him. It is not possible for us to have a veneration for a tempter.

2. This doctrine tendeth to beget and confirm in us an utter abhorrence of sin, because it is the thing God hateth, and will have nothing to do, no kind of communication with it.

The second instruction relating to temptations, now to be considered, amounteth to this, that the true and most useful account of the origin of sin to every particular person, that which really is the spring of prevailing temptation, Is HIS OWN LUST; but every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.

1. Wbat is meant by lust. To understand this we must look into the inferior part of the human constitution. Since it pleased God to form man as he is, compounded of flesh and spirit, it was necessary there should be in his nature affections suitable to both. This leadeth us to a true notion of what the apostle calleth lust; it signifieth the whole of those affections and passions which take their rise from the body and the animal part of our nature, and which terminate in the enjoyments and conveniences of our present state, as distinguished from the moral powers and pleasures of the mind, and the perfection of them, which requireth our chief application as being our principal concern and ultimate happiness. That inferior part of our constitution, in itself innocent and necessary for such beings, yet giveth the occasion whereby we, abusing our liberty, are drawn away and enticed to evil by various ways; such as, vehement desires beyond the real value of the objects; an immoderate indulgence in the gratification of those desires, either in instances which are prohibited by reason and the laws of God, or even within the licensed kinds, above the proper limits which the end of such gratification hath fixed; all tending to weaken the devout and virtuous affections which are the glory of our nature and the distinguishing excellence of man. Other affections also tempt us, as sorrow, which often through our weakness exceedeth in proportion the event which is the occasion of it. 2. To consider how men are tempted by lust, being drawn away and enticed. And here what I would principally observe is, that lusts are only the occasions or temptations to moral evil, not necessitating causes. The mind is free, and voluntarily determineth itself upon the suggestions of appetites and passions, not irresistibly governed by them; to say otherwise, is to reproach the constitution and the author of it; and for men to lay upon Him the blame of their own faults, which yet their consciences cannot help taking to themselves. Let us reflect on what passeth in our own heart on such occasions, to which none of us can be strangers; and we shall be convinced that we have the power of controlling the inclinations and tendencies which arise in our mind, or not consenting to them, and a power of suspending our consent till we have farther considered the motives of action, and that this is a power often exerted by us. The most vehement desires of meat and drink are resisted upon an apprehension of danger; the love of money and the love of honour are checked, and their strongest solicitations sometimes utterly denied, through the superior force of contrary passions, or upon motives of conscience.

3. To show, that in the account which the text giveth, we may rest our inquiry, as to all the valuable purposes of it, concerning the origin of sin in ourselves. The true end of such inquiry is our preservation and deliverance from sin, that we may know how to avoid it, or repent of it when committed; excepting so far as they contribute to those ends, speculations about it are curious but unprofitable.

What I have just now hinted directeth us to the proper application of this subject.

1. And, first, upon a review of the whole progress of temptation from the first occasion of it to the last unhappy effect, the finishing of sin, which, I suppose, we are all agreed is the just object of our deepest concern, we may see what judgment is to be made, and where we ought to lay the blame.

2. From this doctrine of the apostle which I have endeavoured to explain, we see where our greatest danger is of being led into sin, and whence the most powerful and prevailing temptations arise, that is, from the lusts of the heart.

3. And therefore, thirdly, if we would maintain our integrity, let us keep the strictest watch over our own appetites and passions, and here place our strongest, for it will be the most effectual defence. (J. Abernethy, D. D.)

The sins of men not chargeable upon God, but upon themselves

Next to the belief of a God, and His providence, there is nothing more fundamentally necessary to the practice of a good life than the belief of these two principles. First, that God is not the author of sin, that He is in no way accessary to our faults, either by tempting or forcing us to the commission of them. For if He were, they would not properly be sins, for sin is a contradiction to the will of God; but supposing men to be either tempted or necessitated thereto, that which we call sin would either be a mere passive obedience to the will of God, or an active compliance with it, but neither way a contradiction to it. Nor could these actions be justly punished; for all punishment supposeth a fault, and a fault supposeth liberty and freedom from force and necessity; so that no man can be justly punished for that which he cannot help, and no man can help that which he is necessitated to. And though there were no force in the case, but only temptation, yet it would be unreasonable for the same person to tempt and punish. Secondly, that every man’s fault lies at his own door, and he has reason enough to blame himself for all the evil that he does. And this is that which makes men properly guilty, that when they have done amiss, they are conscious to themselves it was their own act.


1. The proposition which the apostle here rejects, and that is, that God tempts men, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God.” Now, that we may the more distinctly understand the meaning of the proposition, which the apostle here rejects, it will be very requisite to consider what temptation is, and the several sorts and kinds of it. Temptation does always imply something of danger. And men are thus tempted, either from themselves, or by others; by others, chiefly these two ways. First, By direct and downright persuasion to sin. And to be sure God tempts no man this way. He offers no arguments to man to persuade him to sin; He nowhere proposeth either reward or impunity to sinners; but, on the contrary, gives all imaginable encouragement to obedience, and threatens the transgression of His law with most dreadful punishments. Secondly, men are likewise tempted, by being brought into such circumstances, as will greatly endanger their falling into sin, though none persuade them to it. The allurements of the world are strong temptations; riches, honours, and pleasures are the occasions and incentives to many lusts. And, on the other hand, the evils and calamities of this world, especially if they threaten or fall upon men in any degree of extremity, are strong temptations to human nature. That the providence of God does order, or at least permit, men to be brought into these circumstances which are such dangerous temptations to sin, no man can doubt, that believes His providence to be concerned in the affairs of the world. All the difficulty is, how far the apostle does here intend to exempt God from a hand in these temptations. Now, for the clearer understanding of this it will be requsiite to consider the several ends which those who tempt others may have in tempting them; and all temptation is for one of these three reasons. First, for the exercise and improvement of men’s graces and virtues. And this is the end which God always aims at, in bringing good men, or permitting them to be brought, into dangerous temptations. And this certainly is no disparagement to the providence of God, to permit men to be thus tempted, when He permits it for no other end but to make them better men, and thereby to prepare them for a greater reward. And this happy issue of temptations to good men the providence of God secures to them either by proportioning the temptation to their strength; or if it exceed that, by ministering new strength and support to them, by the secret aids of His Holy Spirit. And where God doth secure men against temptations, or support them under them, it is no reflection at all upon the goodness or justice of His providence to permit them to be thus tempted. Secondly, God permits others to be thus tempted, by way of judgement and punishment, for some former great sins and provocations which they have been guilty of (Isaiah 6:10). So likewise (Romans 1:24) God is said to have given up the idolatrous heathen “to uncleanness, to vile and unnatural lusts” (Romans 1:28; 2 Thessalonians 2:11). But it is observable, that, in all these places which I have mentioned, God is said to give men up to the power of temptation, as a punishment of some former great crimes and provocations. And it is not unjust with God thus to deal with men, to leave them to the power of temptation, when they had first wilfully forsaken Him; and in this case God doth not tempt men to sin, but leaves them to themselves, to be tempted by their own hearts’ lusts; and if they yield and are conquered, it is their own fault. Thirdly, the last end of temptation which I mentioned is to try men, with a direct purpose and intention to seduce men to sin. Thus wicked men tempt others, and thus the devil tempts men. But thus God tempts no man; and in this sense it is that the apostle means that “no man when he is tempted, is tempted of God.” God hath no design to seduce any man to sin.

2. I now proceed to the second thing which I propounded to consider, viz., the manner in which the apostle rejects this proposition, “Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God.” By which manner of speaking he insinuates two things. First, that men are apt to lay their faults upon God. For when he says, “Let no man say” so, he intimates that men were apt to say thus. It is not unlikely that men might lay the fault upon God’s providence, which exposed them to these difficult trials, and thereby tempted them to forsake their religion. But however this be, we find it very natural to men to transfer their faults upon others. They think it is a mitigation of their faults, if they did not proceed only from themselves, but from the violence and instigation of others. But, especially, men are very glad to lay their faults upon God, because He is a full and sufficient excuse, nothing being to be blamed that comes from Him. Secondly, this manner of speech, which the apostle here useth, doth insinuate further to us, that it is not only a false, but an impious assertion, to say that God tempts men to sin.

3. Third thing I propounded to consider; namely, The reason or argument which the apostle brings against this impious suggestion; that “God cannot be tempted with evil”; and therefore no man can imagine that He should tempt any man to it.

First, consider the strength and force of this argument: and--First, we will consider the proposition upon which this argument is built, and that in, that “God cannot be tempted by evil.” He is out of the reach of any temptation to evil. For, first, He hath no temptation to it from His own inclination. The holy and pure nature of God is at the greatest distance from evil, and at the greatest contrariety to it. He is so far from having any inclination to evil, that it is the only thing in the world to which He hath an irreconcilable antipathy (Psalms 5:4; Habakkuk 1:13). Secondly, there is no allurement in the object to stir up any inclination to Him towards it. Thirdly, neither are there external motives and considerations that can be imagined to tempt God to it. All arguments that have any temptation are founded either in the hope of gaining some benefit, or in the fear of falling into some mischief or inconvenience. Now the Divine nature, being perfectly happy, and perfectly secured in its own happiness, is out of the reach of any of these temptations.

2. Consider the consequences that clearly follow from it, that because God cannot be tempted with evil, therefore He cannot tempt any man to it. For why should He desire to draw men into that which He Himself abhors, and which is so contrary to His own nature and disposition? Bad men tempt others to sin, to make them like themselves, and that with one of these two designs; either for the comfort or pleasure of company, or for the countenance of it, that there may be some kind of apology and excuse for them. And when the devil tempts men to sin, it is either out of direct malice to God, or out of envy to men. But the Divine nature is full of goodness, and delights in the happiness of all His creatures. His own incomparable felicity has placed Him as much above any temptation to envying others as above any occasion of being contemned by them. Now, in this method of arguing, the apostle teacheth us one of the surest ways of reasoning in religion; namely, from the natural notions which men have of God. Inferences: First, let us beware of all such doctrines as do any ways tend to make God the author of sin; either by laying a necessity upon men of sinning, or by laying secret design to tempt and seduce men to sin. We find that the holy men in Scripture are very careful to remove all thought and suspicion of this from God. Elihu (Job 36:3), before he would argue about God’s providence with Job, he resolves, in the first place, to attribute nothing to God that is unworthy of Him. “I will (says he) ascribe righteousness to my Maker.” So likewise St. Paul “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid” (Romans 7:7). “Is the law sin?” that is, hath God given men a law to this end, that He might draw them into sin? Far be it from Him. “Is Christ the minister of sin? God forbid” (Galatians 2:17). Secondly, let not us tempt any man to sin. All piety pretends to be an imitation of God; therefore let us endeavour to be like Him in this. Thirdly, since God tempts no man, let us not tempt Him. There is frequent mention in Scripture of men’s tempting God, i.e., trying Him, as it were, whether He will do anything for their sakes that is misbecoming His goodness, and wisdom, and faithfulness, or any other of His perfections. Thus the Israelites are said to have “tempted God in the wilderness forty years together,” and, in that space, more remarkably ten times. So likewise if we be negligent in our callings, whereby we should provide for our families, if we lavish away that which we should lay up for them, and then depend upon the providence of God to supply them, and take, care of them, we tempt God to that which is unworthy of Him; which is to give approbation to our folly, and countenance our sloth and carelessness.

THAT EVERY MAN IS HIS OWN GREATEST TEMPTER. “BUut every man is tempted, when he is drawn aside of his own lust, and enticed.” In which words the apostle gives us a true account of the prevalency of temptation upon men. It is not because God has any design to ensnare men in sin; but their own vicious inclinations seduce them to that which is evil. To instance in the particular temptations the apostle was speaking of, persecution and suffering for the cause of religion, to avoid which many did then forsake the truth, and apostatise from their Christian profession. They had an inordinate affection for the ease and pleasure of this life, and their unwillingness to part with these was a great temptation to them to quit their religion; by this bait they were caught, when it came to the trial. And thus it is proportionably in all other sorts of temptations. Men are betrayed by themselves. First, that as the apostle doth here acquit God from any hand in tempting men to sin, so he does not ascribe the prevalency and efficacy of temptation to the devil. I shall here consider how far the devil by his temptations is the cause of the sins which men, by compliance with those temptations, are drawn into. First, it is certain that the devil is very active and busy to minister to them the occasion of sin, and temptations to it. Secondly, the devil does not only present to men the temptations and occasions of sin; but when he is permitted to make nearer approaches to them, does excite and stir them up to comply with these temptations, and to yield to them. And there is reason, from what is said in Scripture, to believe that the devil, in some cases, hath a more immediate power and influence upon the minds of men, to excite them to sin, and, where he discovers a very bad inclination or resolution, to help it forward (John Acts 5:3). Thirdly, but for all this the devil can force no man to sin; his temptations may move and excite men to sin, but that they were prevalent and effectual proceeds from our own will and consent; it is our own lusts closing with his temptations that produce sin. Fourthly, from what hath been said it appears that though the devil be frequently accessary to the sins of men, yet we ourselves are the authors of them; he tempts us many times to sin, but it is we that commit it. I am far from thinking that the devil tempts men to all the evil that they do. I rather think that the greatest part of the wickedness that is committed in the world springs from the evil motions of men’s own minds. Men’s own lusts are generally to them the worst devil of the two, and do more strongly incline them to sin than any devil without them can tempt them to it. Others, after he has made them sure, and put them into the way of it, will go on of themselves, and are as mad of sinning, as forward to destroy themselves, as the devil himself could wish; so that he can hardly tempt men to any wickedness which he does not find them inclined to of themselves. So that we may reasonably conclude that there is a great deal of wickedness committed in the world which the devil hath no immediate hand in. Second observation, that he ascribes the efficacy and success of temptation to the lusts and vicious inclinations of men, which seduce them to a consent and compliance with the temptations which are afforded to them. “Every man is tempted when he is drawn aside of his own lust, and enticed.” Lay the blame of men’s sins chiefly upon themselves, and that chiefly upon these two accounts: First, the lusts of men are in a great measure voluntary. By the lusts of men I mean their irregular and vicious inclinations. Nay, and after this it is still our own fault if we do not mortify our lusts; for if we would hearken to-the counsel of God, and obey His calls to repentance, and sincerely beg His grace and Holy Spirit to this purpose, we might yet recover ourselves, and “by the Spirit mortify the deeds of the flesh.” Secondly, God hath put it in our power to resist these temptations, and overcome them; so that it is our own fault if we yield to them, and be overcome by them. First, it is naturally in our power to resist many sorts of temptations. If we do but make use of our natural reason, and those considerations which are common and obvious to men, we may easily resist the temptations to a great many sins. Secondly, the grace of God puts it into our power, if we do not neglect it, and be not wanting to ourselves, to resist any temptation that may happen to us; and what the grace of God puts into our power, is as truly in our power as what we can do ourselves. Learn: First, not to think to excuse ourselves by laying the blame of our sins upon the temptation of the devil. Secondly, from hence we learn what reason we have to pray to God, that He would “not lead us into temptation,” i.e., not permit us to fall into it; for, in the phrase of the Scripture, God is many times said to do these things which His providence permits to be done. Thirdly, from hence we may learn the best way to disarm temptations, and to take away the power of them; and that is by mortifying our lusts and subduing our vicious inclinations. (Abp. Tillotson.)

Transferring the blame of sin

1. Man is apt to transfer the guilt of his own miscarriages.

(1):Beware of these vain pretences. Silence and owning of guilt is far more becoming; God is most glorified when the creatures lay aside their shifts.

(2) Learn that all these excuses are vain and frivolous, they will not hold with God.

2. Creatures, rather than not transfer their guilt, will cast it upon God Himself.

(1) Partly because by casting it upon God the soul is most secure. When He that is to punish sin beareth the guilt of it, the soul is relieved from much horror and bondage; therefore, in the way of faith, God’s transacting our sin upon Christ is most satisfying to the spirit (Isaiah 53:6).

(2) Partly through a wicked desire that is in men to blemish the being of God. Man naturally hateth God; and our spite is shown by profaning His glory, and making it become vile in our thoughts; for since we cannot raze out the sense of the Deity, we would destroy the dread and reverence of it. We charge God with our evils and sins divers ways--

(a) When we blame His providence, the state of things, the times, the persons about us, the circumstances of Providence, as the laying of tempting objects in our way, our condition, &c., as if God’s disposing of our interests were a calling us to sin: thus Adam (Genesis 3:12).

(b) By ascribing sin to the defect and faint operation of the Divine grace. Men will say they could do no otherwise; they had no more grace given them by God (Proverbs 19:3).

(c) When men lay all their miscarriages upon their fate, and the unhappy stars that shone at their birth, these are but blind flings at God Himself veiled under reflections upon the creature.

(d) When men are angry they know not why.

(e) Most grossly, when you think God useth any suggestion to the soul to persuade and incline it to evil.

(f) When you have an ill understanding and conceit of His decrees, as if they did necessitate you to sin. Men will say, “Who can help it? God would have it so”--as if that were an excuse for all.

3. God is so immutably good and holy that He is above the power of a temptation. Men soon warp and vary, but He cannot be tempted. And generally, we deal with God as if He could be tempted and wrought to a compliance with our corrupt ends, as Solomon speaketh of sacrifice offered with an evil mind (Proverbs 21:27); that is, to gain the favour of heaven in some evil undertaking and design.

4. The Author of all good cannot be the author of sin. (T. Manton.)

God tempts no man


TO EVINCE THE UTTER ABSURDITY AND INCONSISTENCY OF ASCRIBING, IN ANY MANNER OR TO ANY EXTENT, THE MORAL DELINQUENCIES OF MEN TO THE AUTHOR OF THEIR BEING, THE APOSTLE REMINDS US OF THE MORAL RECTITUDE OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER. He cannot be imagined as making any arrangements of the natural, or forming any plans in the moral world, of which the direct and necessary effect would be to lead His creatures into that which He has so solemnly declared that He cannot look upon but with abhorrence. Since He views with unmixed complacence the progress of His rational offspring in holiness and benevolence, can we imagine that He should either endow them with capacities, or place them in circumstances, the direct tendency of which should be to lead them into the paths of malevolence and impurity?

Having shown from the holiness of the Divine character that God is not the author of human temptations, he next grounds this assertion on THE DIVINE CONDUCT TO THE HUMAN FAMILY.

1. Examine, O man! the moral constitution of thy nature, and see if thou canst detect there any arrangement for thy departure from the path of holiness and peace. God has so formed the human mind that the perception of virtue awakens a sentiment of pleasure, and the presence or discovery of vice a feeling of disapprobation and disgust.

2. Look next into the history of Divine providence. Why has He been so mindful of man, and so careful of his comfort? Not, surely, to tempt him to ingratitude against his bountiful Benefactor, or to encourage him in rebellion against His authority and law. No! the goodness of God is designed to lead them who are the objects of it unto repentance.

3. Turn, now, to the revelation of the gospel, and see if there be any statements or provisions there that tend to countenance or confirm the strange delusion with which sinners seek to allay the alarms of conscience. Was not the Son of God manifested to destroy the works of the devil? Vegas He not sent to bless us, in turning every one of us from our iniquities? (John Johnston.)

Temptation to sin not from God

In support of the first, or negative part of the proposition--THAT GOD IS NOT THE AUTHOR OF SIN OR TEMPTATION., I confine myself entirely to the argument suggested by the text, “God cannot be tempted with evil.” There must be a certain analogy, or congenial resemblance, between every cause and its effect. We cannot find in the effect any attribute or quality which was not first inherent in the cause by which it was produced. How then can evil, moral evil, flow from the Divine nature, from which it is not only excluded, but to which it is directly opposite and contradictory?

In the text, TEMPTATIONS ARE POSITIVELY ASCRIBED TO THE LUSTS OF MEN; and therefore the guilt and misery arising from them must centre entirely in the person of the offender. Reflect upon that fatal hour when temptation assailed, and at last prevailed against you. What did you then feel? Why did you hesitate for a moment about gratifying the favourite passion? Did not another principle within you suggest danger, and hold you in suspense? Was not every concession to the tempting object extorted against the most earnest remonstrances, and the most awful forebodings of conscience? Lessons:

1. The doctrine, now illustrated, affords the strongest consolation and encouragement under the manifold dangers and trials to which we are exposed in the present state of probation and discipline. God tempts no man to sin. Omnipotent power and goodness are ever ready to interpose in the defence of struggling virtue.

2. From the doctrine of the text we may discern not only the weakness and folly, but the arrogance and impiety of those subterfuges and apologies to which sinners have recourse in order to extenuate or cancel their personal guilt.

3. Let us abhor every sentiment and expression tending so much as to insinuate that God is the author of temptation. Some errors may be set on foot while yet no more than the outworks of religion are attacked. But whatever misrepresents the perfections and moral government of God is immediately levelled against the foundation which supports the whole fabric of our faith. (T. Somerville, D. D.)

Man not tempted by God

Even a Christian master is especially careful not to throw temptations in the way, for instance, of his servants. He would not leave sums of money about, because it would be throwing temptation in their way. If he did it through accident, then the honest servant would preserve the money, and put it into the master’s hands when he returned. If he purposely did it to try his servant, then he would be guilty if the servant took it; and if the man left it about for the very purpose, we know whose servant that master would be. It was nothing less than devilish to place the helmet and broadsword in sight of the imprisoned Joan of Arc, expecting that the sudden impulse of old and dear associations, the sudden spring of reviving habit, would lead her to put them on, and so break her word and forfeit her life. To think, then, that what a Christian master would not knowingly do, God would do, were blasphemy. (W. W. Champneys.)

Drawn away of his own lust

Sin’s beginning, progress, and end

How SIN BEGINS. NOW here is a point on which a most profane idea is often held, which our text begins with contradicting. Sin, saws an old proverbial saying, is a child that nobody will own. Men are forward to commit it, but they are backward to acknowledge that they gave it birth. But “drawn away of his own lust,” does the apostle say? Why does he not rather say” Drawn away by Satan”? Because the Lord is evidently aiming in this place to make men see that sin is their own doing--and that they are inexcusable in doing it. As some men are profane enough even to charge their sins upon the Lord, so many are glad, however, to lay all the blame of their transgressions at the door of Satan. “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” But no, says the doctrine of our text--you are self-tempters. It is your own lust that is to blame. However busy Satan is to ensnare you he has an active fellow-worker in your own ungodly bosom. God made man upright; but man has spoiled the nature which his God bestowed on him.

SIN’S PROGRESS. “Lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin.” Now this I call sin’s progress, because the lust itself, that is to say, the desire of what is evil, is a sin as well as the act of sin which it brings forth. The law of God reaches to the heart. It says, “Thou shalt not covet.” Evil desires, that is, when cherished in the heart, lead on to evil deeds.

THE END OF SIN. Many of those who practise it seem to think its end is peace. Lessons:

1. To lay the blame of sin at the right door.

2. To prize unspeakably the tender mercies of a Saviour, and to plead hard for them.

3. That we should “keep our hearts with all diligence, for out of them are the issues of life.” (A. Roberts, M. A.)

Evil: its origin

Here James traces the whole evil done by man, first, back to its proper source, and then forward to its final issue. He says, in this case the temptation is not from God; the inducement to sin, and the influence by which it is yielded to, are not from Him but from ourselves.


1. It does not originate with God. It is here clearly implied, on the one hand, that some are ready to say this, either with their lips or in their hearts. It has been supposed that the reference is to the fatalism which characterised many of the Jews; but for that there seems to be no good warrant. The error is common one, and has ever been found springing up, under this or that form, in the soil of our depraved nature. It appeared at a very early period, and is indeed coeval with the fall itself (Genesis 3:13). In every age men have sought to cast the burden off themselves, and if possible to implicate the great Author of their being in the impurities of their character and conduct. They have done it in various ways. Some have identified sin with God, with His very nature. They have espoused the Pantheistic philosophy, which makes good and evil alike emanate from Him, yea, alike constitute Him, be equally manifestations and features of Him, parts of the universal, all-embracing Deity. Not a few who stop short of that monstrous but fascinating system, yet bring matters to the same issue, so far as the responsibility of their vices and crimes is concerned. They attribute them to Divine suggestion. It has not been uncommon to trace the foulest deeds to ideas and impulses of heavenly origin. Less directly, but not less really, is the same thing done by those who find a shelter in their corrupt dispositions and desires, in those propensities and passions which strongly incite to and issue in evil courses. Genius has boldly, defiantly urged this plea in defence of irregular habits, of gross excesses, and rolled back on the Author of our being the guilt of the darkest misdeeds. Persons of this stamp have appealed to Him, as knowing that He has framed them with passions wild and strong, and have traced their wildest wandering to light from heaven (Burns). And what is perhaps worse, their blind and foolish admirers have endorsed the impious plea, and deemed it sufficient excuse for the foulest immorality and profanity to talk of the poet’s galloping blood and quick nerves, of “the gunpowder in his composition,” separating him from tame, cold precisions, and raising him far above the common rules of judgment and action. These parties forget that God made man upright, after His own image, without an evil tendency, without one lust, vanity, or imperfection in his constitution. Everything of the sort is the fruit of the fall, of the change wrought in us by apostasy, of our voluntary, wilful, presumptuous rebellion against the authority of heaven. All that is corrupt is of ourselves. The origin of it is human and Satanic; it is not, in whole or part, Divine. Others say, in effect, that they are tempted of God, because of the position they occupy, the circumstances in which they are placed, and the objects by which they are surrounded. High or low, rich or poor, young or old, learned or ignorant, we have each that in our condition which not only tries, but tempts; and for that is not the great Disposer of affairs, He who has fixed our position and appointed our lot, is not He responsible? He fills and directs that stream which is flowing all around, carrying us down by its constant, swollen, resistless current. How can we bear up against it, and if we are swept away by it, is it at all wonderful? God does it, and He could have ordered things far otherwise, He could have shielded us from all such malign influences. Those who entertain the thought overlook the fact that we have often very much to do with these circumstances ourselves. How common a thing is it to choose our own way, regardless of the will of God, and presumptuously to place ourselves in that situation, and among those objects, on which we afterwards cast the blame of the sins we there commit, of the errors and impurities into which we are there seduced! Further, these persons fail to realise the truth, that circumstances in themselves have comparatively little power over us, that they derive their mastery, not from what is in them, but what is in us--from the dispositions and desires on which they operate. And they forget that these very circumstances which are complained of are meant to furnish a wholesome discipline, to supply that moral and spiritual training which we need, and that in the exercise of reason and conscience--above all, by grace sought and obtained, we are to control, to governthem, to rise superior to them, and, instead of allowing them to be masters, make them our servants. Let no man then say that, in these respects or any others, he is tempted of God; let him guard against the most distant approach to such foul blasphemy. So far from anything of the kind, God sets before us the most powerful inducements to reject evil under every form, to avoid it as we should a serpent in our path. How authoritative the commands, how awful the sanctions of His law! while the operations of His providence, and indeed the very constitution of our being, which is His workmanship, supply us with the most convincing evidence that He hates sin and punishes its commission. James gives a reason for this, he founds it on the Divine nature itself. “For God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.” “He cannot be tempted with evil.” He is infinitely far removed from it, raised above it, under all its forms. He is so because of the absolute perfection of His being and blessedness. He has no want to be supplied, no desire to be gratified. He can gain nothing, can receive nothing. His happiness is complete, absolute, admitting neither of diminution nor enlargement. What inducement, then, can evil present to Him, what bribe can it offer to such a being? “Neither tempteth He any man.” The two statements are closely connected. The one follows from, and is based on, the other. He who cannot be tempted cannot tempt. He whose holiness shuts out all solicitation to evil will not, cannot present such solicitation. His spotless, glorious character is opposed equally to either supposition.

2. It originates with man himself. It springs from elements which have their seat in his own bosom. It rises from, it centres in, “lust.” This term is not limited here, as it often is in common use among us, to sensual passion, to licentiousness. It is far more general and comprehensive. It denotes strong desire of any kind; and here, as often elsewhere, it means irregular, sinful desire--desire either of what is not lawful, or of what is lawful in an inordinate degree. It may be evil in its very nature, irrespective of extent, or it may be so only by reason of perversion and excess. There is much of this in every bosom. It is the corrupt principle in its various tendencies and motions--its striving, craving for certain objects and indulgences. It is the body of sin in its manifold appetites and members. Here is the primary, prolific source of transgression. The apostle says, “his own lust,” and this is a significant and emphatic circumstance. Each person has a particular lust, a master-passion, an evil tendency, which has the chief influence in determining his conduct and moulding his character. All of us have sins that do more easily beset us, by reason of the special principles and propensities which bold sway in our bosom. One is governed by the love of pleasure, another by the love of power. Thin man is ambitious, that is covetous. Here it is the filthiness of the flesh, there it is the filthiness of the spirit, which is dominant. But what is brought out by “his own,” is that the lust by which we are tempted is a thing strictly belonging to ourselves. It excludes the idea of foreign action or influence; it confronts and condemns the imagination that God is at all implicated in the matter. Our own lust is more to be dreaded than all Satan’s assaults, though these are ever to be watched and feared. But the temptation in question, that which issues in sin, operates, takes effect, has its success in the manner here described. “When he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.” We take the first step in the direction of real and overt acts of disobedience when we allow ourselves to be drawn away and enticed by it; for it acts in both cases, brings about the latter step as well as the former, in this downward process. We break loose from the restraints of various kinds which have helped to hold us back from evil, and gradually yield to the enticements presented, to the fascinations of vanity or vice, of folly or wickedness. The one step precedes and prepares for the other. (John Adam.)

The depravity of the will the cause of sin

It is natural for men, in the commission of sin, to design to themselves as much of the pleasure and as little of the guilt as possible; and therefore, since the guilt of sin unavoidably remains upon the cause and author of sin, it is their great business to find out some other cause, upon which to charge it, beside themselves.

1. What the apostle here means by being tempted.

2. What is intended by lust,

1. For the first of these: it is as certain that the Scripture affirms some men to have been tempted by God, and particularly Abraham, as that it is positively affirmed in the verse before the text, that God tempts no man. In the sense that it is ascribed to God, it signifies no more than a bare trial; as when, by some notable providence, He designs to draw forth and discover what is latent in the heart of man. In the sense that it is denied of God, it signifies an endeavour, by solicitations and other means, to draw a man to the commission of sin: and this the most holy God can by no means own, for it would be to take the devil’s work out of his hands. But neither does this sense reach the measure of the word in this place; which imports not only an endeavour to engage a man in a sinful action, but an effectual engaging him with full prevalence, as to the last issue of the commission. And thus a man can be only tempted by his own lust; which is--

2. The second thing to be explained. By lust the apostle here means, not that particular inordination or vice that relates to the uncleanness of the flesh; but the general stock of corruption that possesses the whole soul, through all its respective faculties. But principally is it here to be understood of the prime commanding faculty of all, the will, as it is possessed and principled with sinful habits and depraved inclinations.

THE MISTAKEN CAUSES OF SIN; in the number of which we may reckon these that follow

1. The decree of God concerning things to come to pass is not a proper cause for any man to charge his sins upon; though perhaps there is nothing in the world that is more abused by weak and vulgar minds in this particular. It has no casual influence upon sinful actions; no, nor indeed upon any actions else: forasmuch as the bare decree, or purpose of a thing, produces or puts nothing in being at all. A decree, as such, is not operative or effective of the thing decreed. But it will be replied, Does not everything decreed by God necessarily come to pass? And yet I suppose that none will say that God’s foreknowledge of a man’s actions does, by any active influence, necessitate that man to do those actions; albeit, that this consequence stands unshakeable, that whatsoever God foreknows a man will do, that shall certainly be done. Otherwise, where is God’s omniscience and His infallibility? God hath shown thee, O man, what is good and what is evil. He has placed life and death before thee. This is the rule by which thou must stand or fall: and no man will find that his fulfilling God’s secret will, will bear him out in the breach of His revealed.

2. The influences of the heavens and of the stars imprint nothing upon men that can impel or engage them to do evil; and yet some are so sottish as to father their villainies upon these; they were born, forsooth, under such a planet, and therefore they cannot choose but be thieves or rebels all their life after. But admitting that the heavens have an influence upon inferior bodies, and that those glorious lights were not made only to be gazed upon, but to control as well as to direct the lesser world; yet still all communication between agent and patient must be in things that hold some proportion and likeness in their natures; so that one thing can pass no impression upon another, of a nature absolutely and in every respect diverse from it, provided it be also superior to it; and such a thing is a spirit in respect of body. Upon which grounds, what intercourse can there be between the stars and a soul?

3. Neither can any man charge his sins upon the constitution and temper of his body, as the proper cause of them. The body was made to serve and not to command. All that it can do is only to be troublesome, but it cannot be imperious. They are not the humours of the body, but the humours of the mind, to which men owe the irregularities of their behaviour. The sensitive appetites having their situation in the body, do indeed follow the peculiar complexion and temper of it; but reason is a thing that is placed so solely and entirely in the soul, and so depends not upon those inferior faculties; but though it is sometimes solicited by them, yet it is in its power, whether or no it will be prevailed upon. And for all the noise and tumult that is often raised amongst them; yet reason, like the uppermost region of the air, is not at all subject to the disturbances that are below. No man is made an adulterer, a drunkard, or an idle person by his body; his body indeed may incline him to be so, but it is his will only that makes him so. And besides, there have been some in the world, who by the conduct of their reason have made their way to virtue, through all the disadvantages of their natural constitution. Philosophy has done it in many, and religion may do it in all.

4. And lastly, to proceed yet higher: no man can justly charge his sins upon the devil, as the cause of them; for God has not put it into the power of our mortal enemy to ruin us without ourselves; which yet he had done, had it been in the devil’s power to force us to sin. The Spirit of God assures us that he may be resisted, and that upon a vigorous resistance, he will fly. He never conquers any, but those that yield; a spiritual fort is never taken by force, but by surrender. It is confessed, indeed, that the guilt of those sins that the devil tempts us to, will rest upon him; but not so as to discharge us. He that persuades a man to rob a house is guilty of the sin he persuades him to, but not in the same manner that he is who committed the robbery. I shall remark this by way of caution: that though I deny any of these to be the proper causes of sin, yet it is not to be denied but that they are often very great promoters of sin, where they meet with a corrupt heart and a depraved will. And it is not to be questioned but that many thousands now in hell might have gone thither in a calmer and a more cleanly way at least, had they not been hurried on by impetuous temptations, by an ill constitution, and by such circumstances of life as mightily suited their corruption, and so drew it forth to a pitch of acting higher and more outrageous than ordinary. For there is no doubt but an ill mind in an ill-disposed body will carry a man forth to those sins, that otherwise it would not, if lodged in a body of a better and more benign temperament. As a sword, covered with rust, will wound much more dangerously, where it does wound, than it could do if it were bright and clean. All this is very true; and therefore, besides those internal impressions of grace, by which God sanctifies the heart, and effectually changes the will, many are accountable to His mercy for those external and inferior assistances of grace. As, that He restrains the fury of the tempter; that He sends them into the world with a well-tempered and rigthtly disposed body; and lastly, that He casts the course of their life out of most of the snares and occasions of sin: so that they can with much more ease be virtuous than other men. But on the other side, where God denies a man these advantages, and casts him under all the forementioned disadvantages of virtue, it is yet most certain that they lay upon him no necessity of sinning.

THE PROPER AND EFFECTUAL CAUSE OF SIN IS THE DEPRAVED WILL OF MAN, expressed here under the name of LUST. The proof of which is not very difficult; for all other causes being removed, it remains that it can be only this. We have the word of Christ Himself that it is from within, from the heart, that envyings, wrath, bitterness, adulteries, fornications, and other such impurities do proceed. I shall endeavour further to evince this by arguments and reasons.

1. The first shall be taken from the office of the will, which is to command and govern all the rest of the faculties; and therefore all disorder must unavoidably begin herb. The economy of the powers and actions of the soul is a real government; and a government cannot be defective without some failure in the governor.

2. The second argument shall be taken from every man’s experience of himself and his own actions; upon an impartial survey of which he shall find, that before the doing of anything sinful or suspicious, there passes a certain debate in the soul about it, whether it shall or shall not be done; and after all argumentations for and against, the last issue and result follows the casting voice of the will.

3. A third reason is from this, that the same man, upon the proposal of the same object, and that under the same circumstances, yet makes a different choice at one time from what he does at another; and therefore the moral difference of actions, in respect of the good or evil of them, must of necessity be resolved into some principle within him; and that is his will.

4. The fourth and last reason shall be from this, that even the souls in hell continue to sin, and therefore the productive principle of sin must needs be the will. All the blowing of the fire put under a cauldron could never make it boil over, were there not a fulness of water within it. Some are so stupid as to patronise their sins with a plea that they cannot, they have not power to do otherwise; but where the will is for virtue, it will either find or make power.

THE WAY BY WHICH A CORRUPT WILL (here expressed by the name of lust) IS THE CAUSE OF SIN; and that is, by “drawing a man aside, and enticing him.”

1. It seduces, or draws a man aside; it actually takes himself from the ways of duty: for as in all motion there is the relinquishment of one term before there can be the acquisition of another; so the soul must pass from its adherence to virtue before it can engage in a course of sin. Now the first and leading attempt of lust is to possess the mind with a kind of loathing of virtue, as a thing harsh and insipid, and administering no kind of pleasure and satisfaction. This being done, and the mind clear, it is now ready for any new impression.

2. The other course is by enticing; that is, by using arguments and rhetoric, to set off sin to him with the best advantage, and the fairest gloss. And this it does these two following ways:

(1) By representing the pleasures of sin, stripped of all the troubles and inconveniences of sin. Bit now it is the act of lust to show the quintessence and the refined part of a sinful action, separate from all its dregs and indecencies, so to recommend it to the apprehension of a deluded sinner. Lust never deals impartially with the choice, so as to confront the whole good with the whole evil of an object; but declaims amply and magnificently of one, while it is wholly silent of the other.

(2) Lust entices by representing that pleasure that is in sin greater than indeed it is;” it swells the proportions of everything, and shows them, as it were, through a magnifying-glass, greatened and multiplied by desire and expectation; which always exhibit objects to the soul, not as they are, but as they would have them be. Nothing cheats a man so much as expectation: it conceives with the air, and grows big with the wind; and like a dream, it promises high, but performs nothing. They are cursed like the earth, not only with barrenness, but with briars and thorns; there is not only a fallacy, but a sting in them: and consequently they are rendered worse than nothing; a reed that not only deceives, but also pierces the hand that leans upon it.

But the exceeding vanity of every sinful pleasure will appear by considering both the latitude of its extent and the length of its duration.

1. And first, for the latitude or measure of its extent. It seldom gratifies but one sense at a time; and if it should diffuse a universal enjoyment to them all, yet it reaches not the better, the more capacious part of man, his soul: that is so far from communicating with the senses, that in all their revels it is pensive and melancholy, and afflicted with inward remorses from an unsatisfied, if not also an accusing conscience.

2. And then secondly, for its duration or continuance. (R. South, D. D.)

Of the nature of temptations

The word “lust” signifies in this place every desire or inclination after things unlawful in any kind. The desire of unlawful pleasures, which is the vice of sensuality. The desire of unlawful riches, which is the foundation of unrighteousness, oppression, and fraud. The desire of obtaining honour by corrupt methods, which is the sin of ambition. The desire of being religious without true virtue, without the sincere love of God and of our neighbour, which is the foundation of idolatry, and of all superstitions. When by any of these desires a man is drawn away from what he knows is right, and enticed to do what the reason of his mind condemns, then is he led into sin.

In the nature of things EVERY SIN IS A DEVIATION FROM SOME RULE; and such a deviation as the person is sensible of at the time he acts, and knows that he ought not to have so acted. This it is that makes the action blameworthy in its own nature, and justly punishable by a wise and good governor. But, man being endued with rational faculties, and knowing well the difference between good and evil, is still placed in such a situation as to be frequently tempted to depart from reason, and to act contrary to what he knows is right.

Second place, to illustrate and confirm this doctrine BY COMPARING IT WITH SOME REMARKABLE EXAMPLES of sinful men and sinful actions, recorded in Scripture for our admonition. Men at all times, and in all places, when they have been seduced by sin, and begun to apprehend the ill consequences of it, have endeavoured to shift off the blame from themselves, and to lay at least part of the fault upon whatever else they could. But the Scripture, in every history there recorded, has always taken care to direct us with sufficient clearness to the true source of the evil. Our first parent, Eve, when she had eaten of the forbidden fruit, immediately her excuse was, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” Saul comforted himself under his disobedience to an express command of God, with an imaginary intention of sacrificing the choice of his forbidden spoils unto the Lord his God. But the true motive that drew him away from his duty was a covetous desire of the spoil (1 Samuel 15:21; 1 Samuel 15:24). David, in the committing of that great crime, the murder of Uriah, flattered himself with that shameful apology, because Uriah fell by the band of the Ammonites 2 Samuel 11:25). Ahab was willing to persuade himself that he had a right to Ramoth-Gilead, and that God too, by His prophets, encouraged the undertaking. Yet had not his ambition and his passions drawn him away, and blinded his attention, it was easy for him to have perceived that in this whole matter he was acting contrary to the will of God (1 Kings 22:8). (S. Charke, D.D.)

Evil self-originated

1. The cause of evil is in a man’s self, in his own lusts, the Eve in our own bosom. God gave a pure soul, only it met with viciously disposed matter.

2. Above all things, a man should look to his desires.

3. The way that lust takes to ensnare the soul is by force and flattery.

(1) By violence.

(a) When your desires will not endure the consideration of reason, but you are carried on by a brutish rage (Jeremiah 5:8).

(b) When they grow more outrageous by opposition, and that little check that you give to them is like the sprinkling of water upon the coals, the fire burns more fiercely.

(c) When they urge and vex the soul till fulfilled, which is often expressed in Scripture by a languor and sickness.

(2) By flattery. This is one of the impediments of conversion--lust promises delight and pleasures (Job 20:12).

(a) Learn to suspect things that are too delightful. That which you should look after in the creatures is their usefulness, not their pleasantness--that is the bait of lust.

(b) Learn what need there is of great care. Noonday devils are most dangerous, and such things do us most mischief as betray us with smiles and kisses. (T. Manton.)

Drawn and dragged

We are tempted, it seems--“drawn” into sin. Who draws us? Not God. He is perfectly holy, and by a necessity of nature does good and not evil. God is for us; who is against us? There is indeed a tempter. The evil spirit has no power at all over any of us, except what we concede to him. As the prince of the power of the air, he could do a soul no harm: it is when he is welcomed within a man’s own heart that he ensnares. So then, in the last resort, “every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” From this striking figure we learn some specific features of the sad process. The two terms are literally, “drawn out, and hooked.” The first expression does not yet mean drawn by the hook; it means rather drawn to the hook. There are two successive drawings, very diverse in character. The first is a drawing towards the hook, and the second is a dragging by the hook. The first is a secret enticement of the will, and the second is an open and outrageous oppression by a superior force, binding the slave and destroying him. The first process, as applied to hunting and fishing, is well known and easily understood. This part of the process is carried on with care and skill and secrecy. No noise is made, and no danger permitted to meet the eye of the victim. By smell or by sight, the fish or the wild animal is “drawn” from the safe, deep hiding-place in the bush or in the river. The victim, not perceiving the danger, is by its own “lust”--its own appetite--drawn to its doom. The next part of the process is the act of fixing the barbed hook in the victim’s jaws. The word is “baited”; that is, enticed by the bait to swallow the hook--the hook that is in the first instance unsuspected. When the hook is fastened, there is another drawing; but oh, how diverse from the first! The angler does not now hide himself, and tread softly, and speak in a whisper. There is no more any gentleness. He rudely drags his helpless prey to shore, and takes its life. I have often seen the same process, with the same difference between its commencement and its conclusion, in the tempting of human souls. The best, the only real preventive against these baited hooks, is to be satisfied with a sweetness in which there are no sin and no danger. The human soul that is empty--that is not satisfied with the peace of God--is easily drawn into the pleasures of sin. In a certain Highland lake, I have been told, sportsmen at one season of the year expect no sport. There are plenty of fishes, but they will not take the bait. Some vegetable growth on the bottom at that period is abundant and suitable as food. I have observed, in the process of fishing, that on the part of the victim there are two successive struggles, both violent, both short, and both, for the most part, unavailing. When first it feels the hook, it makes a vigorous effort to shake itself free. But that effort soon ceases, and the fish sails gently after the retreating hook, as if it were going towards the shore with its own consent. What is the reason of its apparent docility after the first struggle? Ah, poor victim! it soon discovers that to draw against the hook, when the hook is fastened, is very painful. Then, when it feels the shore, and knows instinctively that its doom has come, there is another desperate struggle, and all is over. I think I have observed these two struggles, one at the beginning and one at the end, with the period of silent resignation between them, in the experience of an immortal man. There is an effort to resist the appetite, after the victim discovers that he is in its grasp. But the effort is painful, and is soon abandoned. “I will seek it yet again,” is the silent resolution of despair. The struggle, with all the agonies of remorse, may be once more renewed when the waters of life grow shallow, and the soul is grazing the eternal shore. The result? Alas! the darkness covers it; we know it not. After the first drawing, which is soft and unexpected, the way of transgressors is hard. The fish with the hook in its jaws is the chosen glass in which the Scripture invites us to see it. The snare of intemperance is the one in which the victim is tormented, and made a show of openly, in sight of the world. (W. Arnot.)

Drawn away and enticed

Of the two verbs used here to describe the temptational agency of lust, the former was originally a venatorial, the second a piscatorial term. Each has its own significance in the description. Before the wild beast can be captured it must be drawn out of its lair. It must be enticed away from its defences, out into the open, where it can be surrounded on all sides, where the assaults can be conducted with greater freedom, where all retreat will be cut off. So temptation will be most effectual when the soul can be enticed out of its retreat, when it exposes itself to the solicitations of evil, and puts itself at the mercy of its foes. When man has lost his adjustments, when his spiritual centre of gravity is disturbed, he is much more susceptible to the power of assaults made upon his integrity, and much more easily overthrown. This, then, is the first endeavour of the Epithumia to induce a change of locality and of environment, to urge man further away from the source of true security, to lead him to advance so far out into the place of exposure that he will fall an easy prey to his adversaries. The other figure carries us a step further. The angler baits his hook to catch the fish. He lures his unwary victim to its death. He offers in sight what he knows will surely attract, and hides within the barbed point which is to capture and to destroy. So in temptation there is this same combination of allurement and destruction. First comes the lure--pleasure, fame, wealth, honour, power, knowledge--the fatal barbwhich lurks within, so placed that to snatch at it is to swallow death. Man is allured, deceived; yet not unwittingly nor unwillingly. He is “baited from his own lust.” His morbid appetite seeks out the forbidden fruit, and greedily plucks it. (J. Caldwell, D. D.)

The origin of evil

Thus James gives us the genesis of evil. It is in the individual man. The man is drawn away from good and caught in evil by his own lust. The writer lays special emphasis on this: it is “his own”; it is not of God--not of the devil--not of the world; it is of the man’s self, and in the man’s self. It is that in his self without the exhibition of which there would be nothing to which the work of the devil could appeal. It is most important to inculcate in all children that it is a mistake to lay their faults on any one else, even on the devil. That personage has enough to bear without having our sins laid upon him. No sinner can be reformed so long as he makes Satan or any one else responsible for his transgressions. I knew a child of strong character and strong passions who used to have paroxysms of rage. Her parents and others would sometimes tell her to open her mouth and let the bad spirit go under the table. The child was growing into the belief that she was the innocent victim of an unseen being, who was snottier person, and she was learning to shift all the responsibility upon that person, that person not herself. A friend one day taught her the fallacy of this; showed her that she was the only person responsible; that she herself was the bad spirit, and there was nothing to do but have that spirit, namely, herself, totally changed. She went to her closet and prayed--prayed as David prayed (Psalms 51:1-19.), when the conviction seized himthat it was against God, and God only, that he had sinned. There was no third party in the transaction, From the hour the child had that conviction she was a changed person. So must we all feel. We can never resist temptation as we should, so long as we hold God or any one else responsible for our sins. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

It bringeth forth sin


Sin is a reality. It is not a weakness, but a power; a power which gnaws at the very core of life; a power encompassing and swaying the entire range of our being. It is an inward strife, a pain reaching even to the heart. Let us, then, seek first of all to discern the full significance of sin, that in sincere penitence we may turn away from it. It gives sin’s history. The history naturally divides itself into three parts

In its origin.

In its essence.

In its results.

EVERY MAN IS TEMPTED, WHEN HE IS DRAWN AWAY OF HIS OWN LUST, AND ENTICED. “His own lust”--the emphasis lies there. Do not throw the blame on any external power; least of all upon God, the Holy One, who has written His law in your hearts! He condemns and punishes sin. He desires that you should be holy as He is holy. Do not seek for the guilt outside yourself, among the people who surround you. I know, indeed, how great is the power of custom, of education, of companionships, the power of men over men; bow overmastering are the first impressions of youth, made upon the unconscious spirit and the undeveloped will. But, nevertheless, all these external influences only tempt--they cannot compel; there is no inseparable connection between them and the soul. The tempting lust! Ah, how insignificant and harmless does it appear at first! How beautiful, in the brilliant colours of childhood! The lust after outward show, after enjoyment, after the possession of earthly things--selfish-ness, vanity, ambition! At first these seem only a childish playfulness, as it were, a snatching at things; a sweet gratification in the absorbing attractions of the outer world; but soon they become a habit.

But now, further, SIN IS BORN OF LUST. It surrounds us everywhere--nay, it is within us--it has taken possession of our senses and our thoughts. And in what does it essentially consist? In the opposition between the flesh and spirit! Selfishness and the desires of the senses--these are the two fundamental forms of all sin. You perhaps ask me if sin is indeed so universally powerful and universally diffused? Be assured, sin has manifold forms--refined and gross; concealed and bare; violent and torpid.

And so our text proceeds: “AND SIN, WHEN IT IS FINISHED, BRINGETH FORTH DEATH.” That is the end--dissolution, ruin, death. And how does the corruption of the spirit show itself? Thus

The conscience becomes dumb; the sense of spiritual realities dull; the nobler feelings of honour vanish; virtue is only an un-comprehended idea; goodness is only policy, or that which is approved by the lax judgment of so-called good society; truth is trampled under the feet of falsehood; and humanity becomes venal, and makes its bargain with the world. And these are the ruinous lineaments of the face of death--indifference, joylessness, hopelessness 1 And these not only take possession of the individual, but proceed further, and, in their moral ruin and destruction, bear violently away everything which comes within the range of the sinful life: they destroy the entire house which is built upon the sand. Not yonder only, in the other world, are the punishment and recompense received; there is a Divine justice even upon this earth. (Dr. Schwarz.)

The natural history of sin

THE BEGINNING OF SIN. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” This is the source of all evil. Before the act can be committed the purpose must be formed in the breast, which takes time, design, deliberation. Seduction, theft, perfidy, drunkenness, injustice, murder, the popular vices of the day, require design, arrangement, decision.


1. The causes brought into operation to produce this. One is the popular reading of the age. Associations with those who have made some advances in vice.

2. Let me show how these principles advance. “When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” No man can become suddenly wicked. At first there must be awful violence done to the conscience. But when you have once gone into this moral contamination, when you cast off the fear of man, no one is astonished, because previously to this you have cast off the fear of God.


1. The death of the body. “Death has passed upon all men, for all have sinned.” But there is a natural tendency in sin to hasten this end. I read in my Bible, “Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days.” The glutton, the intemperate, the lascivious person, the debauchee, all these men shorten their days.

2. The death of the soul. And what is that? I cannot tell.

(1) Allow me to make an appeal to those who are invested with parental authority. Beware lest by connivance and withholding due restraint, you become accessories to the ruin of your children.

(2) Let me warn the young against the danger of yielding to the first temptation. (T. East.)

The vigour of lust

1. Sin encroaches upon the spirit by degrees. Lust begetteth vigorous motions, or pleasing thoughts, which draw the mind to a full and clear consent; and then sin is hatched, and then disclosed, and then strengthened, and then the person is destroyed.

(1) Oh, that we were wise, then, to rise against sin betimes! that we would “take the little foxes” (Song of Solomon 2:15), even the first appearances of corruption! A Christian’s life should be spent in watching lust. Small breaches in the sea-bank occasion the ruin of the whole if not timely repaired.

(2) This reproves them that boldly adventure upon a sin because of the smallness of it. Consider the danger to yourselves. Great faults do not only ruin the soul, but lesser; dallying with temptations is of a sad consequence. Caesar was killed with bodkins.

2. Lust is fully conceived and formed in the soul, when the will is drawn to consent; the decree in the will is the ground of all practice. Well, then, if lust hath insinuated into your thoughts, labour to keep it from a decree and gaining the consent of the will. Sins are the more heinous as they are the more resolved and voluntary.

3. What is conceived in the heart is usually brought forth in the life and conversation. “Lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin.” That is the reason why the Apostle Peter directeth a Christian to spend the first care about the heart--“Abstain from fleshly lusts,” and then “have your conversations honest” (1 Peter 2:11-12). As long as there is lust in the heart there will be no cleanness in the conversation; as worms in wood will at length cause the rottenness to appear.

(1) Learn that hypocrites cannot always be hidden; disguises will fall off.

(2) Learn the danger of neglecting lust and thoughts. If these are not suppressed, they will ripen into sins and acts of filthiness.

(3) Learn what a mercy it is to be hindered of our evil intentions, that sinful consequences are stillborn, and when we wanted no lust we should want no occasion. Mere restraints are a blessing. We are not so evil as otherwise we would be.

4. The result and last effect of sin is death (Romans 6:21; Ezekiel 18:4). Draco, the rigid law-giver, being asked why, when sins were equal, he appointed death to all, answered he knew that sins were not all equal, but he knew the least deserved death.

(1) It teacheth us how to stop the violence of lust; this will be death and damnation. OhQ consider it, and set it as a flaming sword in the way of your carnal delights. Observe how wisely God hath ordered it--much of sin is pleasant; aye I but there is death in the pot, and so fear may counterbalance delight. Another part of sin is serious, as worldliness, in which there is no gross act, and so there being nothing foul to work upon shame, there is something dreadful to work upon fear. Well, then, awaken the soul; consider what Wisdom saith (Proverbs 8:36). Why will you wilfully throw away your own souls? Sin’s best are soon spent, the worst is always behind.

(2) It showeth what reason we have to mortify sin, lest it mortify us. No sins are mortal but such as are not mortified; either sin must die or the sinner. The life of sin and the life of a sinner are like two buckets in a well--if the one goeth up the other must come down. When sin liveth the sinner must die. There is an evil in sin and an evil after sin. The evil in sin is the violation of God’s law, and the evil after sin is the just punishment of it. (T. Manton.)

Evil: its issue

Sin. Lust--that is, impure or inordinate desire, at first harlot-like, for that idea runs through the whole passage--draws away its victims with an art resembling that of a skilful fisher or hunter. Having so far worked on them, got them into its embrace, it conceives--as it were becomes pregnant. This is a decisive stage in the process. It determines all that follows. It leads at once to the bringing forth of sin, and by another step to the bringing forth of death. What, then, is its nature? What are we to understand by this conception? It is produced by the union of lust with the will, the passing of prompting into purpose, desire into determination. It takes place when the two meet and mingle, when inclination, instead of encountering resistance, secures acquiescence. It is consenting, yielding to the workings of corruption, and lending ourselves to the doing of its bidding. When, instead of praying and striving against evil stirring within us and seeking to lead us captive, we tolerate it, dally with it, let it gain strength, and finally obtain the entire mastery, then the impure, criminal union is consummated. The actual transgression straightway ensues. It is sin in the strongest sense of the word--sin actual, obvious, complete in its nature. But are we to infer from this that there is nothing of the kind until it is brought forth? Is all faultless which precedes the birth of the monster? No.

1. There can be no doubt as to the nature and desert of the conception. It is the giving ourselves up to be voluntary slaves of that law which is in the members. We thereby embrace the evil, and it matters little whether action follow or not. He who plans a robbery is a real thief, though in point of fact he may not take away a farthing’s worth of his neighbour’s property. He may have been defeated in his design; he may not have found the fitting opportunity; he may have failed in courage when the resolution had to be carried into effect. The intention was there, and that is enough; for while human tribunals can deal only with palpable acts, the Divine law is fettered by no such restrictions. Suppose we are not answerable for the rising up of the foul harlot lust, for the blandishments it practises, we certainly are for not rejecting its offers and escaping from its impure embraces. The will is not overmastered by force, but is seduced from its allegiance, and plays the traitor.

2. It is not otherwise with the lust that conceives. We find sin lurking in its bosom, marking every one of its forms and motions. The effect reveals the nature of the cause by which it is produced. The two necessarily correspond. The fruit is good or bad according as the tree on which it grows is the one or the other. Were the fountain-head pure, the waters which issue from it would not be so poisonous. And the testimonies of Scripture on the subject are explicit. One of the commandments of the moral law is directed against coveting--that is, lusting after what is our neighbour’s. The works of the flesh enumerated by Paul largely consist of inward dispositions, mental tendencies. Jesus Himself represents evil thoughts as among the things which defile a man. What is often more involuntary, instinctive, than hasty, causeless anger? and yet He makes it a species of murder, and declares that a person chargeable with it is in danger of the judgment. But we are not left to inference, however direct and obvious. We have this concupiscence expressly called sin (Romans 7:7; Romans 7:23; Romans 8:7). Does any one ask, How can I be held responsible for a thing thus belonging to the very constitution of my being that lies beyond the control of the will, at least in its first stages, in those early risings and actings of it we are now considering? Lust is a feature and function of our inner man as fallen, depraved; and that inner man, as such, we may not trace to God, the great Maker and Governor. He created us in His own image, and we lost, defaced its Divine features by our wilful and inexcusable apostasy. And, further, let it be noted how much of our lust is, in a far more direct and personal way still, the workmanship of our own hand, the fruit of our own doings. We produce and foster it, either entirely originating it or immensely strengthening it; in short, we make it what it actually is by association and indulgence, by the scenes we frequent, the companions we choose, the habits we form, the lives we lead.

DEATH. This is the ultimate issue. “And sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Sin itself is the offspring of lust; but in turn it becomes a parent. In due time it gives birth to a child, “a grizzly terror,” a dark, devouring monster. This takes place when sin is finished; and the most important question here is, How are we to understand that expression? James, we apprehend, speaks here of the act of sin which follows the submission of the will to impure or inordinate desire. Whenever lust conceives it brings forth sin; and that child in every instance grows up, and on arriving at maturity, in turn becomes a parent, its issue being death. There is no transgression which is not pregnant with this hideous progeny. The law connects every violation” of its precepts with death, as its righteous, inevitable punishment. The execution of the sentence may be long deferred, but nothing is more certain; and indeed it is in part inflicted from the time the sin is committed. The evil deed passes away as soon as done, but the guilt remains, staining and burdening the conscience; and not only so, for a virus proceeds from it, an active, malign influence which continues to operate, and that in an ever-widening, augmenting degree. The natural tendency of it is to darken the mind and harden the heart, to increase the strength of depravity and fasten more firmly its yoke, to lead on to repetitions of the same act, and to others still more heinous in their nature. It has wrapped up in it multiplied evils which develop themselves more and more fully, advancing from bad to worse, unless in so far as they are checked and overcome by counteracting influences. But it is not finished, does not produce its mature and final result, until it issue in inevitable separation from God and the endurance of His wrath to all eternity (Romans 6:16; Romans 6:21; Romans 6:23). How terrible the death which sin, when finished, thus brings forth! That of the body is but the passage to the region where it reigns in all its horrors. Its nature will not be fully manifested, its work will not be fully done, until it brings forth its brood of future terrors, the pains of hell for ever. James adds an equally tender and solemn warning--“Do not err, my beloved brethren.” These words point both backwardand forward. They respect what goes before, and introduce what comes after, by way of confirmation. They form the transition from the one to the other, and so may be viewed in connection with either. There is here implied exposure to error. We are prone to go astray as to the origin of temptation; for that is the matter in hand, and to which reference is made by the apostle. The language intimates not less the danger of error in this matter. It is not a light thing to fall into such a mistake. On the contrary, it is perilous in the extreme. It perverts our views of the Divine character; it deadens the sense of sin; it renders us blind and insensible to the only effectual remedy; it fosters pride, self-deception, and fatal delusion. It is pregnant with evils of incalculable magnitude and eternal duration. (John Adam.)

The connection between disease and sin

In this passage we have held up before us the genesis of death. Now, the difficulty is to know whether the death spoken of refers to the spirit or the body. In a large number of cases in Scripture the word refers to spiritual death. But there are passages in which the word “death” seems to refer to that of the body. I am disposed to regard the passage before us in this way, and that for two reasons. First, St. James is a writer who deals chiefly with the outward and visible; and a second reason may be found in the fact that he is here speaking of a form of sin whose results are emphatically, though not exclusively, physical. Lust is the enemy of the body. There are senses, then, in which bodily death is the result of sin. Not in all senses. We must be careful to limit the statement that the death of the body is the result of sin. We are told that “the wicked do not live out half their days.” If there bad been no wickedness men would have lived out all their days. In the midst of life there would not have been death, but only at the end of life-when its appointed term had been reached. There would have been no death from disease, but only from what we call the decay of nature. I do not speak positively on this matter. The evidence is not sufficient to do so. I only give this as my conception of the subject. It is significant, too, that our Lord, the only sinless one ever seen on our earth), did not, so far as we can judge from the record, suffer from any disease. Nor must we connect too closely bodily disease with personal sin in many a case the life begins with a diseased or feeble frame inherited from others. But none the less it is true that the connection between disease and sin is both real and close. We think of consumption as the most fruitful cause of the premature mortality in our land. It does slay its thousands every year; but if it slays its thousands, sin slays its tens of thousands, whilst no small proportion even of what we call consumption is traceable either directly or indirectly to sin. Men of the world talk glibly of young men sowing their wild oats. They are silent as to the harvest which springs therefrom. Were such sins to cease out of our land a marvellous change would come over the health of the nation. A complete crusade against disease must include spiritual as well as sanitary weapons. Minds as well as bodies diseased must have their ministry. We must fight the lust within which leads to sin and, at last, to death. Now, how is this fruitful source of disease and death to be grappled with and overcome? The first essential is that we should feel that it must be dealt with. That was the first step taken in relation to other causes of disease. There was a time when men regarded epidemics like cholera as visitations of God--punishments for sin; and so long as this was the feeling nothing was done. All that men did was to pray for their removal. And when men realise that the most fruitful and constant cause of disease and mortality is sin, they will see that these can cease only as the sin producing them is overcome. There are those who say, “Teach all alike the facts of physiology--let men know all about their bodies, and they will then preserve them from defilement.” I have not a particle of faith in such a remedy. Knowledge of the body is no preservation; if it were, the people whose chief business is to understand the body would not need the warning now before us: “Then, when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death.” Is it thus? Careful inquiry has satisfied me that the students of medicine in our great hospitals are not purer, even if they are as pure, as youths in other walks of life. There are others who say, “Trust to education. Increased knowledge will bring about purer ways. As schools and scholars multiply vice will decrease.” Doubtless some forms of vice will decrease. In certain realms knowledge will accomplish much. But no one who knows much of life will say that this is one of those realms. It is not knowledge that is needed. It is the impulse which will prompt to the good, the constraint which will hold us from the evil. There is no force mighty enough that I have ever heard of to grapple with sin save the gospel. Christ alone raises a barrier strong enough to resist the onslaughts of this great enemy. And why is it thus?

1. Because the Christian faith makes us realise that there is a Divine Spirit within us which renders holy even the temple of the body in which it dwells.

2. The Christian faith alone holds up an ideal lofty enough to keep us from impurity.

3. By the constraint of His peerless love He constrains us to live not to ourselves, yielding not to our lower impulses and passions, but unto Him who died for us and rose again. (W. G. Herder.)

The progress and end of sin

The word here translated “lust” might be more aptly rendered concupiscence, that fleshly principle which seems to have been engendered in the hearts of our first parents at the instant of committing the primal sin; and which is the root of all that is sinful and irregular in our thoughts, words, and actions. The seeds of sin are lodged in the bosom of every infant, and naturally grow up to death. And even those in whom the counteracting principle of Divine grace has done its work most thoroughly are yet made painfully sensible, from time to time, that the flesh, or natural corruption, so “lusteth against the Spirit,” that if they do not yield to its wicked solicitations, they are nevertheless greatly hindered from doing the good they would in the manner they would. Thoughts and wishes that savour of original depravity force their way into our minds, and would fain take possession of our will, before we are almost aware. But observe, it is not the first incursion of such thoughts and wishes that makes us actual sinners, though it proves our sinful nature. Evil desire does not conceive, does not become the mother of sin, until married to the will. The wicked inclination has become a fixed purpose; the fixed purpose has been consummated; and now it only remains for retribution to follow. And that retribution is set forth, by a similar figure to what was used before, as the child of sin. Sin being “finished,” being ripe and strong and active, and perhaps having signalised itself by many appropriate feats, becomes the parent of death. It fixes a deadly sting in the conscience; is frequently the cause of a premature and violent death among men; and hands over its wretched victim to eternal death by God’s righteous judgment. We go for our first example to Eve, the mother of mankind. Concupiscence has now conceived sin; and sin is not long in coming to the birth. And, oh, how quickly does sin produce death! The dissolution of soul and body indeed is somewhat delayed by Divine compassion. But shame has come; for Adam and his wife see themselves to be naked, and gird fig-leaves about their loins. Fear has come; for they dare not meet the Almighty, as aforetime, but slink away, and try to hide themselves. Disease is come; for the principles of decay are even now at work in them, and they have already set out on their journey to the grave. Go on to Cain, and see how another form of concupiscence proceeds. In his case it is envy. A deadly malice is conceived; and so, when some occasion presents itself--a very small one would suffice--to set the bad passion in a flame, he brings forth the sin that has long been breeding within him, and sheds a brother’s blood. Wretched man I that innocent blood is not wholly drunk up by the ground. It has gone up to heaven, and cried for vengeance. It is sprinkled on the murderer’s conscience; and henceforth Cain’s life is a living death. Then Ahab, what a striking instance does he present of the effect of covetousness being nourished instead of stifled. I must allude to one other form of natural corruption--I mean, impure desire. Of the sins and calamities that grow out of this headlong appetite, when it is not held in by the strongest moral and religious curbs, David has furnished a mournful example in his own person. Oh, what would he not have given, when the Law poured a stream of fiery wrath into his conscience, and incest and murder became the furies of his house, what would he not then have given to undo what he had done! (J. N. Pearson, M. A.)

Sin in the heart

A large oak-tree was recently felled in the grove adjoining Avondale, near the centre of which was found a small nail, surrounded by twenty-nine cortical circles, the growth of as many years. The sap, in its annual ascents and descents, had carried with it the oxide from the metal, till a space of some three or four feet in length, and four or five inches in diameter, was completely blackened. Is not this a striking illustration of sin as it exists in the hearts of many sincere Christian, s? The nail did not kill the tree; it did not prevent growth; it did not destroy its form and beauty to the eye of the casual observer; but year after year it was silently spreading its influence in the interior of the tree. So, after a believer has been justified by faith in a crucified Saviour, he is made conscious of inherent evil. He may be sensible of pride, envy, ambition, worldly desires, impatience, anger, and unbelief. Should he fail to apply for deliverance to the all-cleansing blood of Jesus, such inherent evils will remain, year after year, corroding and corrupting the seat of his affection and desires. His outward profession may be steady and consistent. His religious life may be continued. There may be growth in religious knowledge, and increased fixedness in religious habits. And yet sin, though hidden, may be percolating through his thoughts and at the end of thirty, forty, or fifty years, he may still be sensible that his nature is not thoroughly renewed. (T. Brackenbury.)

Beginnings of sin

The trees of the forest held a solemn parliament, wherein they consulted of the wrongs the axe had done them. Therefore they enacted that no tree should hereafter lend the axe wood for a handle on pain of being cut down. The axe travels up and down the forest, and begs wood of the cedar, ash, oak, elm, and even the poplar, not one would lend him a chip. At last he desired as much as would serve him to cut down the briars and bushes, alleging that these shrubs did suck away the juice of the ground, hinder the growth and obscure the glory of the fair and goodly trees. Herein they were content to give him so much; but, when he had got the handle, he cut themselves down, too! These be the subtle reaches of sin. Give it but a little advantage, on the fair promise to remove thy troubles, and it will cut down thy soul also. Therefore resist beginnings. (T. Adams.)

Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death

Iniquity finished

Nothing here reaches maturity in a moment. Things begin to be, they grow, they ripen. It is so in nature, in character, and in the moral world. Sin is a growth; it matures, and then its fruit is death. The growth of sin may be slow at first, but it ripens fast as the time of harvest draws nigh.

The game of chance finds its maturity in the abandoned gambler.

Indulgence in the cup is matured in the sot.

Covetousness finds its maturity in the swindler, the thief, the robber.

Lasciviousness has its maturity in the pollutions and obscenities of the brother.

Profanity has its maturity in those unrestrained blasphemies which have sometimes been uttered at the very juncture when life was going out.

The growth of infidelity may be traced from its low beginnings to the same destructive maturity.

So we may trace the sin of lying, from the first instance of prevarication on to the fixed habit of dauntless and deliberate perjury. Conclusion:

1. How may we know when sin has approached nigh to maturity?

(1) Maturity in sin stuns the sensibility of conscience.

(2) Maturity in sin progressively excludes shame.

2. The subject addresses itself to parents.

(1) We should be careful not to corrupt our children by example or precept.

(2) If we love our children, we shall be careful and watchful that others do not corrupt or lead them astray.

(3) In view of this subject, be warned not to let any sin ripen in your heart. (Daniel A. Clark.)

The consequences of sin

St. James tells us that, finally, all “sin” brings forth “death”! And I believe this to be true in many senses, that death has a Protean form.

1. It is quite certain that every allowed sin--of any kind--kills the power of the perception of truth. I might put it more strongly still. Sin weakens, and tends to destroy, every power we possess. Physical sin weakens physical strength. And both physical and mental sin weaken both mental and spiritual powers. And if the weakening process is allowed to go on, it will weaken till it kills! It will go on till it “brings forth death”! This is the result of two causes.

(1) In the first place, by natural cause and effect, whatever weakens the moral condition, weakens the whole man. It weakens the action of the brain and of the heart; and so affects the whole being.

(2) But still more, all the perception of spiritual truth depends upon the operation of the Holy Ghost; and each sin, grieving the Holy Ghost, causes Him to withdraw I-Its assisting power; and, in the same degree, in which He withdraws from us, we are left impotent, and incapable of understanding, or even seeing truth. One habitually allowed sin will deaden the grace both of the mind and the heart, till, by more and more withering processes, the grace of both will die! Why are so many young men and young women prone to infidelity? Why have they grown sceptical of old and familiar truths which were dear to their parents, and were once dear to themselves? Look at their lives, their worldliness, their frivolity, their private habits, their secret or their open sins! There is the reason. Infidelity is a deadening thing. And “sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth that death.”

2. Another consequence of any indulged sin is, that it necessarily involves some concealment, if not further positive sin. It cannot be compatible with a perfectly open character. No sin can go on without some hiding; and that hiding of one thing fosters a reservation, and an uncandidness, and untruthfulness in the whole life. And if once this openness goes, almost everything goes with it! Self-respect is essential to make life worth the living. But who can feel self-respect who is conscious of a hidden sin? The whole world may respect him; but self must bleach and tremble! And sin--any habit or affection which is unsanctioned by God and conscience--is destructive of all pure love. True love is too sacred a thing to stay in a breast with wrong deeds or wicked actions! The wrong love kills the good love. It “beings forth death”; and the good love dies. And what is love worth which is always carrying about with it a bad conscience? And who, that is tampering with any sin, whatever may be the service of his life, can escape a bad conscience? What--if all be happy and prosperous outside--and that conscience is gnawing within a man? You are praised by agreat many people, and conscience tells you all the while you would not have that praise if they but knew everything! What is all the praise but a very mockery! You are trusted; but you do not deserve that trust! You go on your knees, and say your prayers, but you feel all the while, with that secret sin in the heart, no prayer will avail. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” So sin kills prayer. A life--a real life--is to be useful, and do good to others. But if a person is living in any sin, that sin will paralyse, if not the will, certainly the power, to live to any good purpose. The consciousness of sin will always come across his mind, when he is speaking, checking him, incapacitating him. “Who am I to speak?” I, who am living myself so sinfully! And men are keen judges of each other. They very soon discover what is unreal in all your fine talking! And can God bless any effort that such a man makes? He may speak as an angel; but God has not sent him. This sin will turn his most living words to death!

3. But still more, when that man thinks of his own death, will he not foresee and know how that sin which he is now allowing will come up to his memory! How it will be a thorn in his dying pillow! And what a double dying will that “death” be--when the present “sin brings forth,” at the end, its deathly power, to double and increase, a thousand-fold, the pangs of dying! But yet further, and far above all, that “sin” is wounding his own Saviour; and the more you confess it, and the more you hate it, as a Christian, the more you see how it wounds Him. It brings “death” on the Son of God! And no less it is grieving that Holy Spirit who has drawn him so often, and strove with him so patiently and so tenderly! And how can his soul live if that Spirit goes? And it wrongs his Father in heaven. And how can he call himself God’s child, or plead the children’s right, or claim a Father’s love, at the hand of a wronged and outraged God? It kills his sonship! So “sin”--any one indulged sin even now--will be always sapping life, and weakening faith, till faith can believe nothing, and, removing all consciousness, “brings forth” the “death” of hope and heaven! And that is not all.

4. “Sin” is not “finished” yet. All sin has in it a necessity to increase. Sin makes sin. One barrier broken down, the stream of evil rushes on with a greater force; and another barrier giving way, the current swells, till it scarcely knows a check. But what will “sin finished” be? What will it be when, stripped of its soft and beautiful colours, it stands out, without a mask, in its true and native form? What a monster will every, least, sin look beside Perfect Holiness. (James Vaughan, M. A.)

The allegory of sin and death

In looking at the allegory as a whole, we note--

1. Its agreement as to the relation of sin and death with the teaching of St. Romans 5:12).

2. Its resemblance to like allegories in the literature of other nations, as in the well-known Choice of Hercules that bears the name of Prodicus, in which Pleasure appears with the garb and allurements of a harlot.

3. Its expansion in the marvellous allegory of Sin and Death in Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” where Satan represents Intellect and Will opposed to God, Sin its offspring, self-generated, and Death the fruit of the union of Mind and Will with Sin. In the incestuous union of Sin and Death that follows, and in its horrid progeny, Milton seems to have sought to shadow forth the shame and foulness and misery in which even the fairest forms of sin finally issue. (Dean Plumptre.)

Death, the result of sin

The working of sin does not end with the angry speech, the lie, the act of dishonesty or sensual indulgence: it hardens, darkens, debases the nature, renders the heart opener than before to all evil influences, and less open to all good; and unless the Divine mercy intervene, will certainly at last yield as its result death, in the most comprehensive and awful sense of that word. From the nature of things, death, in the great Bible use of the term--blight and desolation over the whole man, spirit, soul and body--is the consequence of sin. Sin renders intercourse with God, who is the Fountain of life, impossible. It consists in the exercise of feelings that in their own nature are utterly inconsistent with true happiness; and it increases constantly in strength, in malignity, in power to destroy the peace of the soul. Death follows sin as naturally, and by as constant a law, as the deadly nightshade bears poison berries. Besides, looked at apart from these essential tendencies of sin, the relation which it bears to conscience and to the justice of God renders the connection between it and death--between iniquity and misery--indissoluble. Death is “the wages of sin,” due to it in justice. Under the righteous administration of the affairs of the universe by God, there is the same obligation in justice that sin should be followed by death, as that a labourer should receive the recompense he has been promised and has worked for. Sin is spiritual death, and every act of sin intensifies the spiritual deadness; to sin, and sin alone, is due that awful and mysterious change which severs soul from body, and which we commonly call death; and when sin is “finished”--when it is allowed to go on to its legitimate issues--“it bringeth forth” that intensity of misery, transcending our present powers of conception, which John calls “the second death,” and which the Lord Himself, the Faithful Witness, describes as “outer darkness, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (R. Johnstone, LL. B.)

Sin’s consummation

Mr. Spurgeon says that he saw, while on a visit to the gardens of Hampton Court, many trees almost entirely covered, and well-nigh strangled by the huge coils of ivy, which were wound about them like the snakes about the unhappy Laocoon. There is no untwisting the folds; they in their giant grip are fast fixed, and the rootlets of the climbers are constantly sucking the life of the trees. There was a day when the ivy was a tiny aspirant, only asking a little aid in climbing; had it been denied, then the tree need not have become its victim, but by degrees the humble weakling grew in strength and arrogance, and at last it assumed the mastery, and became the destroyer. Just the same with the beginning of sin; the least little act of disobedience, it may be a lie, then another, then something else, and they become alarmingly frequent, and each time a little more wicked until they gain the mastery over us, and overwhelm us, and at last drag our souls down to hell.

Sin will destroy the sinner

Many years ago I saw in a museum around stone, as large as a cannonball and quite round. It had been cut through by tools to see what was inside; and what was found? Right in the centre was a little rusty nail. A card stated that this stone had been found in the stomach of a horse. It had first swallowed that little nail, then petrifying matter had gathered round it little by little, till at length it had reached this size and destroyed the life of the animal. So in the end sin will destroy the sinner. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

Sin is fatal to the soul

The bosom sin in grace exactly resembles a strong current in nature, which is setting full upon dangerous shoals and quicksands. If in your spiritual computation you do not calculate upon your besetting sin, upon its force, its ceaseless operation, and its artfulness, it will sweep you on noiselessly, and with every appearance of calm, but surely and effectually to your ruin. So may we see a gallant ship leave the dock, fairly and bravely rigged, and with all her pennons flying; and the high sea, when she has cleft her way into it, is unwrinkled as the brow of childhood, and seems to laugh with many a twinkling smile, and when night falls the moonbeam dances upon the wave, and the brightness of the day has left a delicious balminess behind it in the air, the ship is anchored negligently and feebly, and all is then still save the gentle drowsy gurgling, which tells that water is the element in which she floats, but in the dead of the night the anchor loses it hold, and then the current, deep and powerful, bears her noiselessly whither it will; and in the morning the wail of desperation rises from her decks, for she has fallen on the shoal, and the disconsolateness of the dreary twilight, as the breeze springs with the daybreak and with rude impact dashes her planks angrily against the rock, contrasts strangely with the comfort and peacefulness of the past evening. Such was the doom of Judas Iscariot. Blessed with the companionship of our Lord Himself, dignified with the apostleship, and adorned with all the high graces which that vocation involved, he was blinded to the undercurrent of his character, which set in the direction of the mammon of unrighteousness, and which eventually ensured for him an irretrievable fall. (Dean Goulburn.)

The bitterness of finished sin

There is more bitterness following upon sins ending than ever there was sweetness flowing from sins acting. You that see nothing but well in its commission will suffer nothing but woe in its conclusion. You that sin for your profits will never profit by your sins.

A tremendous genealogy

What a frightful picture James paints! Desire has successfully solicited the will to an impure embrace. In the unblessed union the child, Sin, is conceived and finally brought forth. It is a little one. It may be as pretty and as playful as a tiger’s kitten. But it grows. When Sin, which is so vigorous, has attained its growth, it becomes a dreadful parent, and its fearful offspring is Death. Before a man sins let him consider this tremendous genealogy. The sinner is the father of his own sin, and the grandfather of his own death! (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

Sin destructive

When Nicephorus Phocas had built a strong wall about his palace for his own security in the night-time, he heard a voice crying to him, “O, emperor! though thou build thy wall as high as the clouds, yet if sin be within, it will overthrow all.”

Verse 16

James 1:16

Do not err

A caution against error



1. From the weakness of our understandings, and the limited operation of the human faculties.

2. From the awfully mysterious subjects to which our attention is directed.

3. From the impositions and cheats practised upon us.

IT IS NOT NECESSARY. If error were involuntary, it would be unnecessary to guard us against it. We need not err--

1. Because we have a comprehensive and an all-sufficient directory.

2. Because we have a perfect Pattern and Exemplar.

3. Because we have an infallible Guide to conduct us into all truth.


1. Because error is discreditable.

2. Because error is uncomfortable.

3. Because error is unsafe. (Sketches of Sermons.)


1. It is not good to brand things with the name of error till we have proved them to be so. After he had disputed the matter with them, he saith, “Err not.” General invectives make but superficial impressions; show what is an error, and then call it so. Truly that was the way in ancient times. Loose discourses lose their profit. Blunt iron, that toucheth many points at once, doth not enter, but make a bruise; but a needle, that toucheth but one point, entereth to the quick.

2. We should as carefully avoid errors as vices; a blind eye is worse than a lame foot, yea, a blind eye will cause it; he that hath not light is apt to stumble (Romans 1:26); first they were given up “to a vain mind,” and then “to vile affections.” Many, I am persuaded, dally with opinions, because they do not know the dangerous result of them: all false principles have a secret but pestilent influence on the life and conversation.

3. “Do not err”; that is, do not mistake in this matter, because it is a hard thing to conceive how God concurreth to the act, and not to the evil of the act; bow He should be the author of all things, and not the author of sin; therefore he saith, however it be difficult to conceive, yet “Do not err.”

(1) You see, then, what need you have to pray for gifts of interpretation, and a “door of utterance” for your ministers, and a knowing heart for yourselves, that you may not be discouraged by the difficulties that fence up the way of truth. Chrysostom observeth that the saints do not pray, Lord, make a plainer law, but, Lord, open my eyes, that I may see the wonders of Thy law; as David doth.

(2) It showeth how much they are to blame that darken truth, and make the things of God the more obscure.

4. Again, from that “Do not err.” Take in the weightiness of the matter. Ah! would you err in a business that doth so deeply intrench upon the honour of God? The mistake being so dangerous, he is the more earnest. Oh! do not err. There is nothing more natural to us than to have ill thoughts of God, and nothing more dangerous; all practice dependeth upon it, to keep the glory of God unstained in your apprehensions.

5. From that “my beloved brethren.” Gentle dealing will best become dissuasives from error. Certainly we bad need to use much tenderness to persons that differ from us, speak to them in silken words. Where the matter is like to displease, the matter should not be bitter: pills must be sugared, that they may go down the better: many a man hath been lost through violence: you engage them to the other party. (T. Manton.)

On self-deception

MEN ERR BY ATTACHING GREATER IMPORTANCE TO THE AFFAIRS OF THIS LIFE, THAN TO THOSE OF ETERNITY. HOW many and great privations and dangers will the warrior pass through to gain the honour of a victory I Yet to conquer himself, to win a kingdom that cannot be moved--this never engaged his serious thoughts, never excited his desire,

MEN DECEIVE THEMSELVES BY THE HOPE OF A DEATH-BED REPENTANCE. IS it not highly presuming on the patience of God when we expect that God will grant us “repentance unto life” eternal, in the day of sickness, after we have spent our best days in the service of sin?

MEN ERR IN THEIR VIEW OF THE NATURE, THE EVIL, AND THE CONSEQUENCE OF SIN. Every sin, how small or insignificant soever it may seem to us, is an act of black ingratitude for multiplied mercies. It is a provoking of the wrath of God. Again, every sin, however secretly committed, will be brought to light in the day of judgment. The sins of omission as well as the sins of commission; the sins of the heart as well as the sins of the life; all will then be brought forward against every impenitent sinner, and exhibited to an assembled world. The pleasures of sin for a season are purchased at too dear a rate. What are the luxuries of life which” drown the soul in perdition,” when contrasted with their reward--an eternity of anguish!

MEN ERR IN THEIR VIEW OF “THE DIVINE LAW” THAT IS, THE MORAL LAW. They are not aware that the law of God “is spiritual’; that it extends to the secret chambers of the heart; that it condemns everything that the sinner does, says, or thinks, because it is not done, said, or thought, as the law requires. Multitudes erroneously imagine that the law is of no force, or, at least, that its exactions are greatly relaxed, since the death of Christ. This is a fundamental. The law of God, being a transcript of His own unchangeable holiness, is itself unchangeable. It will be the standard by which the righteous Judge will at the last day critically try all actions, words, and affections of men.

MEN ERR AND DECEIVE THEMSELVES IN THE VIEW OF THEIR OWN CHARACTER. They imagine that though they are not what they ought to be, yet they are not so bad as others, and have a good heart, and mean well. If they are wrong, what must become of thousands? Some conclude that their state is good, because they are born of Christian parents, educated in a Christian land, admitted to Christian ordinances (Revelation 3:17).

MEN ERR IN THEIR APPREHENSION OF THE CHARACTER OF GOD. They think Him to be altogether such an one as themselves. They venture upon sin, and presumptuously flatter themselves that God is not so rigid as to notice everything they do amiss. They foolishly conclude that because the Lord delayeth the execution of His threatenings, He will not pour out His fury on the ungodly. Application:

1. To those who may be under the influence of self-deception. If you are deceived, you neither will seek safety nor apprehend any danger: and if you are not undeceived before you die, you will be awfully convinced, but too late, of your fatal error.

2. To those who feel the vast importance of their souls’ concerns, and are anxious to be preserved from error. Do you abandon the vain refuge of lies in which you once sought shelter? If it be so, we may pronounce your case a hopeful one. Yet rest not in present attainments; but press forward to the mark. Examine yourselves. Adopt the prayer of the Psalmist (Psalms 139:23-24). (E. Edwards.)

Errors concerning God to be avoided

This verse emphasises the importance of having correct views of God. In regard to other things, wander into the forests of falsehood so far as one may, the man who holds the truth as to God can never be finally lost. And yet how few seem to appreciate that. Any philosophy of physical science is unsound and untrustworthy in proportion to its holding unsound relations to the truth as to God. The same is true in civil life: heresies in doctrine, errors in morals, and wrongs in life are to be traced almost invariably to some mistake of the truth as to God. Let a man be right here, and he has formed a hasp on which he may bang the first link of any chain of thought or action or life which he may be able to forge in time and in eternity. Do not wander from the great central truth as to God. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

Verses 17-18

James 1:17-18

Every good gift … is from above

Gifts front, above

It is not from the lowest but from the highest points that the best things in the world always come.

We get from the sky, and not from the earth, all those gracious influences without which our world would be only a gigantic lifeless cinder roiling through space. Light and heat come down to us from above; and so do the sunshine that warms and quickens and beautifies everything, and the rain and the dew that refresh the face of nature. The ground is to the plant mainly the soil in which its roots are fixed; it obtains its food chiefly from above, from the air and the sunshine and the showers of heaven. Then, too, it is from the highest parts of the earth’s surface, not from the lowest, that all the good things come which make the earth such a beautiful and comfortable home for man. The mountains, not the plains, are the sources of our greatest and most precious gifts. Were it not for the mountains there would be no streams to quench our thirst and water our fields--no winds to purify the air--no clouds to overshadow the earth in the heat of the day, and to keep in the warmth from being diffused in space at night. And is it not a very beautiful, as well as a very striking, thought, that all our flowers come to us originally from the mountains--from the highest and not from the lowest parts of the earth? They bloomed on the heights; and when the foul atmosphere of the plains and valleys vanished gradually, and the air and sunshine became so clear and bright that flowers could breathe in them, they descended as God’s good and perfect gifts from above to beautify the lowlands with their lovely presence. Thus you see that even in the natural world every good and perfect gift literally is from above. The things that make this world most beautiful and best fitted to be our abode come from the heights. And is there not a wise lesson for your souls from this fact? If your ordinary natural life is supported and enriched by the good things which come from the sky and the highest parts of the earth, how much more should your true life--the immortal life of your souls--be nourished and enriched by the good things that come to you from the highest of all sources, from the Author of every good and perfect gift--the Father of Lights? The best and most perfect of all gifts has come from above, the unspeakable gift of God’s dear Son; and with the gift of His own Son He gives you the gift of the Holy Spirit, that you may know and appreciate fully all the goodness and perfection of Jesus Christ, and make Him your own; that He may work in you the faith which is the gift of God, by which you may believe in Christ to the saving of your soul, and enjoy all the blessings of salvation. In Christ the blessings of this life itself come to you from above, strained and filtered of all their evil, and made truly satisfying without any sorrow being added. And you will get every good and perfect gift from above--from the Father of Lights, by that wonderful ladder set up between earth and heaven along which the angels are ascending and descending--the new and living way of Christ’s finished work--in answer to that real earnest prayer of yours which brings your heart and mind into closest contact with the mind and heart of God. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)

The best things are from shore

It is not the things that come to you from the earth that will fill the void of your nature, but the things that come to you from heaven. You cannot call any gift that comes to you from below a good gift, for it is mixed with the evil of the earth, like the pure snow when it is soiled by the mud of the ground; or a perfect gift, because it is passing and perishing, and even when at its best it ear, not satisfy your nature. There is ever some drawback to the goodness of the gift that you get from below; some imperfection that, like the worm in the apple, spoils the beauty and the sweetness of it. It is about the things that come from below that people always quarrel; about their lands and wealth and houses and properties--all of the earth, earthy. These are the causes of the frequent strifes and jealousies and greeds that make life often so unhappy. People do not quarrel about the things that come from above--the sunshine and the rain and the sweet influences of the starry Pleiades; and the things of Divine grace from a higher source still--the love and the beauty of heaven. The things that come from above sweeten and ennoble life, reconcile and unite men to one another, and make one family, one loving brotherhood of the human race. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)

The Divine bounty

To the bounteous hand of God we owe all that we have, more than we deserve, and all that we hope for. The breath of life was given us by Him, and is dependent upon His pleasure. The stores from which we draw our subsistence are only ours by His permission. It is in His power to withdraw them from us, or us from them, at any moment. We have cause to be thankful that He has so long allowed us the benefit of His mercies. By the “good and perfect gift which is from above,” he means more especially the Divine grace b which all other spiritual blessings are rendered attainable. Aptly, indeed, may the preventing and assisting influence of God’s Holy Spirit be denominated a “good and perfect gift,” since without it we could not make a beginning, much less any progress, in Christian goodness and perfection. (James Aspinall, M. A.)

Divine goodness in human history

ALL THE GOODNESS IN HUMAN HISTORY COMES FROM GOD. This principle applies in a specially direct manner to the spiritual forms of human good. Divine influences on the soul come directly from God. Strength, consolation, hope, holiness, are the results of the soul’s fellowship with God. Christian virtues are fruits of the Divine Spirit, coming down and operating on the individual character.


1. It comes in separate gifts as man’s demands arise (1 Kings 13:10).

2. It comes in different forms: physical; intellectual; spiritual. These forms differ in their intrinsic worth: “Good”--physical and intellectual; “perfect” spiritual. This subject--

(1) Sheds new light on the good of human life, and reveals its sacredness.

(2) Fixed as a habit is favourable to the culture of religious sentiment: humility; gratitude; devotedness.

(3) Reveals the stewardship of humanity.

(4) Discloses the wickedness of a selfish life. (Homilist.)

God not the Author of evil, but of good

The origin of evil is a problem which, in all probability, will never be solved until we reach the world in which there is no evil. And I think we should do well to approach this problem from its brighter rather than from its darker side. I see more hope of our learning what evil is, and even whence it came, if we first ask ourselves what goodness is and whence that came. Now by “goodness” we mean moral goodness; goodness as it exists, or may exist, in man. And by human or moral goodness we mean, not a mechanical and involuntary conformity to law, but a free and willing choice of the righteousness which the law ordains. Moral goodness implies free choice, and how can there be a free choice of that which is good if there be no possibility of choosing evil rather than good? The will of man must have this solemn alternative before it--good or evil--if it is ever to become a good will. God does not make us good, therefore, but He has so made us that we may become good; and in order that we may become good we must be free to choose evil. He is good, perfectly and absolutely good, because His will is fixed in its choice of goodness; and only as our wills rise to that steadfast attitude can we become good. Now if we start from this conception of goodness we shall define its moral opposite, evil, as the wrong choice of the will; we shall say that, just as men become good by freely choosing and doing that which is right, so they become evil by freely choosing and doing that which is wrong. And we shall not blame God for their bad choice, nor for leaving them free to make it; we shall admit that He must leave their will free if they are to be really good, and that, if the will is to be left free, it must be possible for them to choose evil rather than good. Thus we shall reach the conclusion that evil is from man, not from God; that it is not fatal necessity imposed upon them from above, but a wrong choice which they have made when a right choice was open to them. That evil springs from human lust, not from the will of God, St. James has shown us in the verses which precede these; and he now goes on to show how impossible it is that evil should come from God by considerations drawn from what God is in Himself, and from what He has done for us. Even his opening phrase, “Do not err, my beloved brethren,” indicates that he is about to resume and carry further the argument with which he has already dealt. Now on this question of the origin of evil men do perpetually err. They ascribe it to a Divine origin. St. James will have no part in such opinions as these. Evil only too certainly is, but he is sure that it is not from God. And he tries to make us sure by giving us the facts and arguments which had most impressed his own mind. His first argument is drawn from the conception he had formed of the nature of God. God cannot be the Author of evil, he argues, because He is the Author of good, because He is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. “Every good gift and every perfect boon” is from Him; or, as the Greek implies, all that comes to us from God is good, and every good gift of His bestowal is perfect as well as good, perfect in kind and degree. But if all He gives is good, and even perfect, how can evil and imperfection spring from Him. As Bishop Sanderson has it, “We are unthankful if we impute any good but to God, and we are unjust if we impute to Him anything but good.” St. James, however, is not content with the argument from the acknowledged and absolute goodness of God. With the ease and simplicity which we so much admire in the proverbs and parables of our Lord, he rises into a fine illustration of his argument. The illustration comes to this: “You might as well, and much more reasonably, attribute darkness to the sun as impute evil to God.” But mark for a moment with what a natural and unforced ease he passes to his illustration. He had said, “Every good gift and every perfect boon is from above,” from yonder fair, pure world on high. And as, in thought, he glances upward to that world, he sees the sun which God has set to rule the day, the moon and the stars which He has set to rule the night. Of these lights God is “the Father,” and of all lights. But can the Source and Fountain of all light be the source and fountain of all darkness? Impossible. The sun gives light, and only light. If we are in darkness, that is only because the world has turned away from the sun, of our hemisphere of the world. And, in like manner, God gives good gifts, and only good. Thus, and so naturally, does St. James bring in his illustrative thought. But even yet he is not content with it. The thought grows as he considers it, grows somewhat thus. The Father of the lights must be more perfect than the lights He has called into being. They vary; even the sun for ever shifts its place, and its relation to the earth. But whatever inconstancy there may be in them, there is none in Him who made them. He is good, and doeth good only and continually. And now he advances another step. He argues that evil cannot be of God, because, of His own free will, God sets Himself to counterwork the death which evil works in us, by quickening us to a new and holy life: “Of His own will begat He us, by a word of truth.” If we, when we were sinners, were redeemed and made anew by the free action of Divine will, can we for a moment suppose that evil sprang from the will which delivered us from evil? We acknowledge with joyful certainty and gratitude that He who begat us to a new and holy life, when we were “dead in trespasses and sins,” must hate the evil from which He delivered us, that He cannot have been the Author of that which He sent His Son to destroy. It may be said, “You who are redeemed and born anew by the grace of God, at the word of His truth, may have reason to believe in His goodness: but what reason has the world at large, the world which is not saved as yet? Perhaps, in logic, it would be a sufficient answer to this objection were we to say: “The world may be saved if it will; God is always trying to save it; but, as we have seen, good as He is, He cannot make men good against their will.” Logically, the answer is fair enough; but our hearts are not to be satisfied by mere logic, and they crave a more tender and hopeful answer than this. Happily, St. James supplies the very answer they crave. God, he says, has begotten us, by some word of truth which met our inward needs, into a new and better life; and therefore we are sure that He hates evil and death. But He has begotten us, not simply that we ourselves may be saved from evil, but also “that we should be a kind of first-fruit of His creatures.” Now the consecration of the first-fruits of the earth wan a recognition of God’s claim to the whole harvest, and pledge that it should be devoted, in various ways, to His service. This was the great lesson of the first-fruit offering. It was not a tax on payment of which the harvest was to be exempted; it was a confession that it was all the gift of God, and was all due to Him. When, therefore St. James says that the regenerate are kind of first-fruit of the creation, so far from implying that they alone are to be saved, he implies that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God,” and that “the whole creation” shall have a part in their redemption. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Every good and perfect gift

A gift is something that expresses the mind and betokens the love of the giver, and at the same time brings happiness to the receiver. What, then, is “a good gift”? That which fulfils these two requisitions. And what is “a perfect gift”? That which entirely fulfils these two ends. Now everything we have in the world--from the blade of grass, or the ray of sunshine--up to eternal glory; from the slenderest thought that darts through the mind to the highest flights of philosophy; from the earthly songs to the triumphant anthems of heaven--everything we touch, or feel, or see, or hear, everything is “a gift.” A gift! We did not make it; we did not buy it; we did not deserve it. It is God who gives it, and He gives it lovingly of His own free will, and He gaves it to make whoever receives it happier and better. That is “a gift.” But you may say, Is everything God gives us good? Does not He give us trials, sorrows, separations, sickness, bereavement, death? Are these good gifts?” Yes, as they came from Him they were “good.” St. Paul was “caught up to the third heaven, and heard unutterable things.” It was “a gift.” Presently “there was given him”--it is his own expression--“a thorn in the flesh.” It was “a gift,” and a second gift. It was necessary to balance and make safe the first gift. Each alone was “a good gift,” but the two in combination make “a perfect gift.” Is there any difference between “a good gift” and “a perfect gift,” or are we to take it only as a repetition of the same thought, expressing the same meaning, rising to the same climax? I think there is a difference. “A perfect gift” is one which exactly fits the minds and the taste of the receiver; expresses the whole heart of the giver, and can never be taken away. A gift which has in it perfect adaptation and eternity. Now we might say that all light--the light of the world--was but one light; but we see it broken up into its prismatic colours. There is the light of nature; there is the light of reading; there is the light of grace; there is the light of knowledge; there is the light of love; there is the light of heaven. But it all comes from the same spring, and in every case it is “the light” which is on it which makes the value of “the gift.” Some of us have many “gifts.” They are all “from above,” from the same:Father; but from the want of “the light” which should reign in that “gift,” the gift is valueless. Nay, more, it is an unfulfilled possibility; it is the handle of temptation; it turns to self, to pride, to sin. The “gift” is abused; and in proportion as the “gift” is “good and perfect,” it becomes evil, and it incurs the heavier “gift” of condemnation. (James Vaughan, M. A.)

The work of God’s Spirit

This text, I believe more and more every day, is one of the most important ones in the whole Bible; and just at this time it is more important for us than ever, because the devil is particularly busy in trying to make people forget God, to make us acknowledge God in none of our ways, to make us look at ourselves and not to God, so that we may become earthly. He puts into our hearts such thoughts as these: “Ay, all good gifts may come from God; but that only means all spiritual gifts. We are straightforward, simple people, who cannot feel fine fancies; if we can be honest, and industrious, and good-natured, and sober, and strong, and healthy, that is enough for us--and all that has nothing to do with religion. Those are not gifts which come from God. A man is strong and healthy by birth, and honest and good-natured by nature.” Have you not all had such thoughts? But have you not all had very different thoughts; have you not, every one of you, at times, felt in the bottom of your hearts, after all, “This strength and industry, this courage, and honesty, and good-nature of mine, must come from God; I did not get them myself. If I was born honest, and strong, and gentle, and brave, some one must have made me so when I was born, or before. The devil certainly did not make me so, therefore God must. These, too, are His gifts!” Let us go through now a few of these good gifts which we call natural, and see what the Bible says of them, and from whom they come. First, now, that common gift of strength and courage. Who gives you that?--who gave it to David? For He that gives it to one is most likely to be He that gives it to another. David says to God, “Thou teachest my hands to war, and my fingers to fight; by the help of God I can leap over a wall: He makes me strong that my arms can break even a bow of steel.” That is plain-spoken enough, I think. God is working among us always, but we do not see Him; and the Bible just lifts up, once and for all, the veil which hides Him from us, and lets us see, in one instance, who it is that does all the wonderful things which go on round us to this day, that when we see anything like it happen we may know whom to thank for it. So, again, with skill and farming in agriculture. From whom does that come? The very heathens can tell us that; for it is curious, that among the heathen, in all ages and countries, those men who have found out great improvements in tilling the ground have been honoured and often worshipped as divine men--as gods; thereby showing that the heathen, among all their idolatries, had a true and just notion about man’s practical skill and knowledge--that it could only come from heaven; that it was by the inspiration and guidance of God above that skill in agriculture arose. Again, wisdom and prudence, and a clear, powerful mind--are not they parts of God’s likeness? How is God’s Spirit described in Scripture? It is called the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of prudence and might. Or, again, good-nature and affection, love, generosity, pity--whose likeness are they? What is God’s name but love? Has not He revealed Himself as the God of mercy, full of long-suffering, compassion, and free forgiveness; and must not, then, all love and affection, all compassion and generosity, be His gift? Yes. As the rays come from the sun, and yet are not the sun, even so our love and pity, though they are not God, but merely a poor, weak image and reflection of Him, yet from Him alone they come. Or honesty, again, and justice--whose image are they but God’s? Is He not The Just One--the righteous God? Are not the laws of justice and honesty, by which man deals fairly with man, His laws--the laws by which God deals with us? Now here, again, I ask: If justice and honesty be God’s likeness, who made us like God in this who put into us this sense of justice which all have, though so few obey it? Can man make himself like God? Can a worm ape his Master? No. From God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Right, came this inborn feeling of justice, this knowledge of right and wrong, to us--part of the image of God in which He created man--part of the breath or spirit of life which He breathed into Adam. From whom else, I ask, can they come? Can they come from our bodies? What are they?--Flesh and bones, made up of air and water and earth--out of the dead bodies of the animals, the dead roots and fruits of plants which we eat. They are earth--matter. Can matter be courageous? Did you ever hear of a good-natured plant, or aa honest stone? Then this good-nature, and honesty, and courage of ours must belong to our souls--our spirits. Who put them there? Did we? Does a child makes its own character? Does its body make its character first? Can its father and mother makes its character? No. Our characters must come from some spirit above us--either from God or from the devil. And is the devil likely to make us honest, or brave, or kindly? I leave you to answer that. God--God alone is the Author of good--the help that is done on earth, He doeth it all Himself: every good gift and every perfect gift cometh from Him. (Canon Kingsley.)

All good gifts from above

THE GENERAL TRUTH THAT GOD IS THE GIVER OF EVERYTHING GOOD. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” The words rendered “gift” are not the same in the original. They are closely related, but not identical. The one signifies properly the act of giving, the other the thing given, a little before God is represented as He “who giveth liberally and upbraideth not.” He stands pre-eminent alone, in His mood of giving. In His case, act and object entirely harmonise. All giving which is really, absolutely good--good in its origin and exercise--good without any mixture of evil, is from the hand of the infinitely, only good God. “And every perfect gift.” Here He speaks of what is bestowed, of the benefaction itself. By “perfect” we are to understand complete of its kind, without radical defect, what is adequate, entire, fitted to serve the end, to accomplish the purpose intended. Every gift of this description, be it natural or spiritual, providential or gracious, ranging from common weekday mercies up to the highest crowning blessings of salvation, is of Divine origin and communication. Through whatever channel they reach us, in whatever quarter they present themselves to view, they are all from above--primarily and properly from above. And they are so, not merely as being originally from a celestial region, but as coming from a Divine bestower. They are from God Himself--from God alone. Now mark how He, the great Giver, is here described. He is called “the Father of lights”--literally of the lights. The primary, direct reference, apparently, is to the grand luminaries of the firmament--the sun, moon, and stars of heaven. These majestic orbs, before which so many nations in all ages have bowed down to worship, are preeminently the lights of the natural world, and they were at first created, as they are still sustained, by Jehovah. As their Maker, Originator, He may be appropriately termed their Father. Light is the brightest, purest, most gladsome of all material elements; and hence it is very often used in Scripture as an emblem of knowledge, holiness, and joy--of all excellence, intellectual, moral, and spiritual--of whatever is most precious and perfect. All the glory of heaven is often represented by the same symbol. Everything which resembles this element, of which it is a tilting figure, is here pointed at in the remarkable designation. The bright orbs above shadow forth a higher, nobler splendour than their own, that which adorns the world of spirits, the kingdom of grace and glory. The whole of this light, shine where it may, proceeds from Him, has Him as its great source and centre. But men are not uniform, undeviating in their spirit and actings. They change, at one time they go in opposition to what they have done at another. The most regular and constant of them are subject to disturbing influences. And is it not so even with the material symbols here introduced by the apostle? But God is not only infinitely clearer and purer, He is also steadier, more constant than the great orbs of heaven. Hence, it is added, “With whom is no vaiableness, neither shadow of turning.” He has no variableness about Him, no change, alternation, no fluctuation or uncertainty; no, not the least degree of it, not the most distant approach to anything of the kind, for He is without even “the shadow of turning.” In these terms there may be, as is generally supposed, an implied contrast between the Father of lights and the lights themselves. All good, then, comes from Him, all kinds and degrees of it, natural and spiritual. Every blessing, great and small, whether for the body or the soul, is of His bestowal. And so nothing but good comes from Him--no evil whatever. He sends trials, troubles, no doubt, but these are often blessings in disguise, and the very best blessings. Night and storm have their beneficial influence in the natural world, and so have frowning providences in the spiritual.

THE MORE SPECIAL TRUTH THAT GOD IS THE QUICKENER OF ALL THE SAVED. James speak of regeneration. It is evident that “begat” here is to be understood, not in the natural sense, but the spiritual; for he adds that it was effected by “the word of truth.” There is no admission to His favour and family, no possibility of being one of His sons and daughters, but by being born again.

1. The origin of this regeneration. It is here attributed to God as its Author. It is effected by Him, and Him alone. We pass in it from the carnal to the spiritual, from the earthly to the heavenly. We are thenceforth actuated by wholly different views, feelings, desires, and motives. But more is here stated. James says, “Of His own will begat He us.” When He regenerates, God acts according to His own free, sovereign purpose. It is always a most spontaneous, gracious proceeding. It is wholly self-moved. The new birth is never necessitated or merited by the creature. There is nothing about us to deserve it, to draw down the Divine power and mercy for its accomplishment (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:3).

2. The instrument of this regeneration. “The word of truth,” the word which is truth--truth without mixture of error, truth the purest and highest, truth absolute, Divine. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy Word is truth.” It is the Spirit who is the efficient agent in working this change. It was thus that peace first entered the dark, troubled bosom of Augustine. It was from the old Bible found in the library at Erfurt that Luther learned the way of life, and began not only to walk in it himself, but to guide into it the feet of multitudes. It was as his eyes rested on the precious words, “the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin,” that one of those noble soldiers of the Cross whom the army of our Queen has furnished, Captain “Vicars, was led to that resolution, and entered on that course, which was followed by a career of eminent consistency and devotedness. This word is all pure, and is proved to be so by the influence it exerts, the holiness it produces in all who comes under its power.

3. The design or object of this regeneration. “That we should be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures.” He speaks of the “creatures,” and this term, perhaps, goes beyond the redeemed. It points probably to the wider deliverance--that emancipation extending to nature itself, which is associated with the manifestation of the sons of God hereafter (Romans 8:21-22).

(1) We may learn here a lesson of gratitude. Think of our providential bounties, think of our religious privileges--think, above all, of our spiritual and saving mercies, and of what acknowledgments are due to Him from whom they all issue!

(2) We may learn also a lesson of humility. We have not the slightest claim to any of these benefits. We have nothing to boast of, no worth, no merit, for our righteousness is no better than filthy rags, and our proper place is the dust of self-abasement.

(3) And, finally, we may learn a lesson of holiness. Is God the Giver only of good? Is His begetting us the greatest, best proof that evil cannot proceed from Him, that He stands essentially opposed to all sin at the utmost possible distance from everything of the kind? Then, clearly, if we would act in accordance with the nature and design of our new birth, if we would show ourselves the children of this Father of lights, we must cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, we must ever sock to be sanctified wholly in heart and life, in soul and body. (John Adam.)

Divine gifts


1. The designation employed by the apostle is fitted to elevate our conception of Deity. God is “the Father of lights,” the Creator and Governor of sun, moon, and stars. “God is Light.” Not only has He kindled the luminaries of space, He is the Lord of all light, both physical, and also intellectual and moral.

2. The description of one of the Divine attributes exhibits the character of God still more clearly and delightfully. With Him there “can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning.” There is no fickleness or caprice in the heart, in the action of the beneficent Almighty.


1. They partake of the nature of their origin. “From above.” “What have we that we did not receive?” Yet too many men are like the swine that feast upon the acorns, but look not up to the tree whence the fruit falls.

There is a Divine flavour, a Divine fragrance, a Divine beauty, in all the gifts of God.

2. They are good. They have all of them a natural goodness, and they are all a means, if used aright, to moral and spiritual goodness, and thus lead to something better than themselves.

3. They are perfect.

(1) Commensurate with the character and resources of the Giver.

(2) Adapted to the recipient.

(3) Complete, being finished as they are begun.

THE SPECIAL ILLUSTRATION OF DIVINE GOODNESS. Instead of charging God with tempting us to sin, we are directed to observe, and gratefully to acknowledge, the provision He in His wisdom and love has made for our highest welfare.

1. What it is--the new life. “He begat us,” or “brought us forth,”--as it is differently translated. Our thoughts are thus led to the supreme blessing of God’s covenant of grace. Has God given us His Son? He has done so that we might have life, eternal life. Has God given us His Spirit? He has done so that by that Spirit we might be born anew. The new, the higher, the spiritual life of humanity is the great fact of revelation, the great fact of the world’s history.

2. Its origin in the Divine purpose. This gift came from God-”of His own will.” Christians are “born not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

3. Its means and instrumentality. A moral end must be effected by moral means.

4. Its end. That “we should be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures,” is His aim in all He has done for our salvation. The early Christians were the first-fruits of a spiritual harvest, comprising the Church of Christ in all lands and through every age. Application:

1. Here we have an incentive to gratitude.

2. An inducement to confidence.

3. An encouragement to prayer.

4. An inspiration to hope. (J. R. Thomson, M. A.)

Natural and spiritual good

Whatever is excellent in the creature, is freely imparted to it by the bounty of the Creator; who is high in glory above all, perfect and unchangeable.


1. Under natural good is comprehended the animal life of our bodies, its health, and all things that contribute to support and render it comfortable. The reason and understanding of man, his power of memory, and faculty of speech, with the knowledge he is enabled to gain by them, and the arts and improvements of life which arise from them, are to be ranked under the same notion.

2. Spiritual good is whatever contributes to purify the soul, to raise it towards heaven, and to prepare it for the presence of God. It bears its blossoms of hope and peace here on earth; but produces a fruit which is to be gathered in eternity.


1. It should leach us gratitude and thanks for the blessings of life.

2. It should teach us a constant and humble dependence on the providence of God, under a sense of our own insufficiency to our welfare.

3. It teaches us submission to God’s blessed will in all things.

Hitherto we have been describing our duty to God, as lie is the Giver of all natural good; let us next consider it, AS HE IS THE AUTHOR OF ALL SPIRITUAL GOOD.

1. And, first, it is a duty which we owe to God and ourselves, when He sets such different objects before us, to weigh and examine their different value, and prefer the best. If what is temporal and worldly is oftentimes permitted to the unthankful and evil, let us desire some other blessing which is a surer token of the favour and loving-kindness of the Giver.

2. And to this we have the greatest encouragement, because He who is the Giver of this heavenly wisdom, hath graciously promised to bestow it on those who ask and seek it of Him.

3. The way, therefore, of asking and seeking so as to obtain, is by prayer, accompanied with a suitable practice. (T. Townson, D. D.)

Good things from God

1. That all good things are from above; they come to us from God. Mere evil is not from above: “the same fountain doth not yield sweet and bitter waters.” God is good, and immutably good, and therefore it cannot be from Him, which was Plato’s argument. But for good that floweth clearly from the upper spring, there are indeed some pipes and conveyances, as the Word, and prayer, and the seals; and for ordinary blessings, your industry and care. But your fresh springs are in God; and in all these things we must, as chickens, sip and look upwards.

2. Whatever we have from above, we have it in the way of a gift. There is nothing in us that could oblige God to bestow it; the favours of heaven are not set to sale.

3. Among all the gifts of God, spiritual blessings are the best: these are called here “good and perfect,” because these make us good and perfect.

4. That God is the Father of lights. Light being a simple and defecate quality, and, of all those which are bodily, most pure and spiritual, is often put to decipher the essence and glory of God, and also the essences and perfections of creatures as they are from God. The essence of God (1 John 1:5). There light, being a creature simple and unmixed, is put to note the simplicity of the Divine essence. So also the glory of God (1 Timothy 6:16). So Jesus Christ, in regard as He received His personality and subsistence from the Father, is called in the Nicene Creed, “Light of light, and very God of very God.” So also the creatures, as they derive their perfections from God, are also called lights; as the angels

(2 Corinthians 11:10); the saints (Luke 16:8). Yea, reasonable creatures, as they have wisdom and understanding, are said to be lights; so John 1:9. Well, then, if God be the Father of lights--

(1) It presseth you to apply yourselves to God. If you want the light of grace, or knowledge, or comfort, you must shine in His beam and be kindled at His flame. We are dark bodies till the Lord fill us with His own glory.

(2) It shows the reason why wicked men hate God (John 3:19-21). He is the Father of lights; He hath a discerning eye, and a discovering beam.

(3) It presses the children of God to walk in all purity and innocency Ephesians 5:8).

5. The Lord is unchangeable in holiness and glory; He is a Sun that shineth always with a like brightness. This is an attribute that, like a silken string through a chain of pearl, runneth through all the rest: His mercy is unchangeable,” His mercy endureth for ever” (Psalms 100:5). So His strength, and therefore He is called “The Rock of Ages” (Isaiah 26:4). So His counsel; He may change His sentence, the outward threatening or promise, but not His inward decree; He may will a change, but not change His will. So His love is immutable; His heart is the same to us in the diversity of outward conditions: we are changed in estate and opinion, but God He is not changed; therefore when Job saith (Job 30:21), “Thouart turned to be cruel,” he speaketh only according to his own feeling and apprehension. Well, then--

(1) The more mutable you are, the less you are like God. Oh! how should yon loathe yourselves when you are so fickle in your purposes, so changeable in your resolutions!

(2) Go to Him to establish and settle your spirits.

(3) Carry yourselves to Him as unto an immutable good; in the greatest change of things see Him always the same: when there is little in the creature, there is as much in God as ever (Psalms 102:26-27). (T. Manton.)

God’s gifts to man, and man’s responsibility as inferred therefrom

The word “gift” is one of the loveliest in the language. It is a flower-like word, and full of fragrance. It is a most significant and expansive term. Like the firmament, it is inclusive of all bright things visible to man in the doings of God. You might enumerate every act of the Father, from the creation of man to the gift of the Holy Ghost, and all the operations of His mercy since, and group them all together; you may call the roll of all His deeds of love to man, and all His gracious acts to us individually: and above them all, or upon the face of each separately, one might, with the accuracy of entire truthfulness, write “Gift.” They have all come to the race, and to each of us, fresh from His hand. There is not a hope I have in which I do not see my Father’s face; and the reflection of the face reveals the mirror’s use, and makes it lovely. There is not a love known to your life, to which is any depth or purity, from which come not Divine reflections. Nor is there any sympathy in your heart or mine, friend, or any sweet impulse or prompting, no high aim or noble motive, no, nor any consolation which makes our sorrows like wounds which heal themselves in bleeding, not of God. I bring all these together, and string them like pearls upon one necklace, and lay them in the palm of His benevolence--a kind of tribute; my little gift to the All-giving. You may begin with the very lowest of His gifts to you--those that come through the ordinary channels of nature, and hence seem least connected with supernatural bestowment--even your bodily powers--and you can but see at a glance how perfectly you are equipped for usefulness and happiness upon the earth. In your own body find proof of your Creator’s love. What grace, what beauty, what sensitiveness, and subtlety of feeling, has been given to the body! How responsive it is to the mind I how willing its subjection I how free and generous its service! I know that it shall fail, and be not; I know that by-and-by we shall have a better; but for the time being, for the present state of soul-development, how adapted the instrument is to the wishes and wants of the player! But it is not until you contemplate man in respect to his mental and moral faculties; it is not until you look within yourself, and behold the powers of your mind, and the more subtle but incomparably superior attributes of the soul--that you fairly see what God has done for you. What costly, what magnificent furniture is this with which the almighty Architect has fitted up and adorned the temple of the Spirit! Here is Reason--that pale but lovely reflection of God--which draws the line between beast and man: on one side of which is mastery, the powers and pleasures of intelligence and eternal life; on the other, inbred subjection, absence of thought, and existence that hurries to extinction. This is ours--our birthright; given, not bought: bestowed, not acquired--the sign and proof of our sonship, and a bond that binds us as with ties of blood to His eternal Fatherhood. Here, too, is Memory--life’s great thesaurus, where we bestow all our jewels; that gallery in which are hung the faces of the loved as no limner could depict them; that chamber swathed thick with tapestry, on which the days, like flying fingers, have wrought grave and bright forms, and retained the otherwise transient joys. Who would give up his memory? who surrender this shield against forgetfulness? No one. And yet memory is one of God’s gifts to you. Here, too, is Imagination, the divinest faculty of them all, winged like an eagle, tuneful as a lark. Of all faculties, of all powers given of God, I count this the greatest, the most subtle, the most ethereal, and the most Divine. Are you not rich in gifts? Are you not blessed? What more could He have done for you than He has done? Has He not given as a father who as a God should give--generously, munificently? What, now, let me ask, have you done for Him? Where are your days of labour? where the long account of service? How and when have you cancelled the bond and obligation you are under? When your Father called, have you answered? when He directed, have you gone? when He commanded, have you obeyed? To what use have you put these faculties? Or again: to what use do you put your memories? Its lessons are many. Do you allow them to teach you wisdom? Do you not know that the highest of all attainments is to so live that recollection shall not be painful? Half of heaven will consist of remembrance: the endless song will derive half its pathos and power from retrospection. The day hasteth on, yea, is even nigh unto us, when we must own all these children of the mind, be they white or black; when they will swarm about us, and say to Him who shall then be sitting in judgment, “This is our father and our mother!” And, lastly, imagination--what have you been doing with that? What are you doing with it day by day? Do you fill its hand with tare-seeds, and send it forth over all the field of your future life, compelling its unwilling palms to sow for a dire harvest? or have you even debauched it until its former Divine repugnance to such service is lost, and it delights itself in wickedness? Christ alone can forgive your abuse of reason; He alone can take remorse from recollection, even by washing out the record of the transgression which feeds it; He alone can restore your imagination to its original purity, and make it as familiar with spiritual sights and uses as you have made it with sensual. And so you see that the bestowments of grace are even greater than the bestowments of nature; and that, in this offer to rectify the misadjustment of your faculties, God does more for you than He did even in their endowment. The mercy which forgives and reforms is greater than the goodness that created. (W. H. Murray, D. D.)

Different temperaments given by God

Apart from the religious view of the subject, no thoughtful person can fail to admire the wisdom and the goodness of Almighty God IN GRANTING TO US HIS CREATURES CONSTITUTIONS AND CHARACTERS SO DIVERSIFIED. By means of that wonderful variety human intercourse has received an interest which could not otherwise have attached to it; human thought has been deepened and diversified, so as to include manifold views of every subject which it contemplates, and the work of the world generally is done in a far more perfect manner.

We pass from the kingdom of nature to THE KINGDOM OF GRACE. These various temperaments with which God has endowed us, His rational creatures, were given for much higher ends than those which are merely natural.

1. Are you of the choleric temperament? God has need of you and of those gifts which He has bestowed upon you. He requires the earnestness of nature to be consecrated to the service of His grace, and He can raise the lofty aims of this temperament to a height to which nature never could aspire.

2. If we turn to the sanguine, we shall perceive that this has, no less, its own proper work for God. St. Peter was no unimportant element in the body of the apostles. Are not the great mass of men far too slow in receiving impressions of heavenly things?

3. So also the phlegmatic serves an important purpose in the Church of Christ. If we are called upon to a ready obedience to God’s holy will, there is another attribute of a faithful service which He no less requires and approves, a steady consistency and stability.

4. And assuredly if all these temperaments are intended by God to be sanctified in the individual and made thereby serviceable also to the Christian community, the same may be said of that which still remains--the melancholic. The temperament of tenderness and of depth could not be removed from the body of Christ without serious loss to every member of it.


1. We have referred to the example of our Lord as a means of sanctification and a proof of the possibility of every temperament being made holy and acceptable for the work of God. And this first view of the subject is not devoid of importance. Jesus Christ is the model man. He is much more; but He is this as well. He shows us in His life what man should be. Now in that life we behold all the four temperaments of which we have been speaking, and we behold them all perfectly sanctified.

(1) In Jesus we behold the melancholic temperament--He was “a Man of sorrow and acquainted with grief”; but we behold it sanctified and free from every stain of sin, calm and uncomplaining in the peace and the love of God.

(2) If we pass to the phlegmatic, we shall perceive that this was not lacking in the human constitution or in the earthly life of Christ. He had all its calmness, its peace, its silence.

(3) In Him, too, we see the excellences of the sanguine temperament; specially we may note its readiness and its trustfulness.

(4) And so, moreover, in Him we see the choleric temperament present and sanctified. The hypocritical misleaders of the people are called “whited sepulchres.” He calls the scribes and Pharisees “hypocrites,” &c. His life displays all the firmness, energy, and decision of this temper.

2. But, again, there is provision for the sanctification of this temperament in the redeeming work of Jesus. On the Cross He offered a fall, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. He there tasted death not for one temperament, for one class, for one nation; but for every man. And as He died for all, so He ever liveth to make intercession for all who come unto Him.

3. There is all provision for the daily sanctification of the life of nature in the words of Jesus. To the choleric He prescribes, by His example and in His words, the spirit of love. To the sanguine He says, that if it would build a tower, it must sit down first and count the cost, etc. To the phlegmatic He says, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself,” &c. To the melancholy, longing for sympathy, He says, “Lo, I am with you always”; dreading the difficulties and dangers of an earthly life, He says, “In the world ye shall have tribulation. But be of good cheer,” dec.

4. Nor would it be right to overlook another important means which God has provided for correcting our natural faults, and disciplining our powers and faculties; I mean His providential dealings with us. They are far more; they are instruments of a Divine discipline, parts of that training which the good providence of God affords, in conjunction with those other means which are set forth in the gospel, and provided in the ministry and ordinances of the Church.

5. But once more let it be observed that the great agent in the sanctification of the human temperaments and of the human heart is the Holy Spirit of God. It is He who makes every other means efficacious--flowing in every channel as a stream of life. (W. R. Clark, M. A.)

All good gifts are from God

God is the fountain of all goodness, the giver of all good gifts, the author of all good things in men, He worketh whatsoever is good in the whole world. Here, hence St. Peter calleth Him the God of all grace (1 Peter 5:10), because all grace and all go, d gifts come only from Him, as from a well-head and fountain. All the effects of God’s will are only good, and whatsoever virtue, grace, Food gifts, it is from God. In this place Almighty God is adorned with three ornaments, wherein His excellent goodness more appeareth.

1. First, He is called the Father of Lights, the Fountain and Well-spring, the Author and Cause from whence all good gifts flow and spring unto men.

2. Secondly, and moreover, it is attributed unto God that He is not variable, mutable, changeable, with whom there is, saith St. James, no variableness. This is added to prevent that which otherwise might have been objected, they might say, God, indeed, is sometimes the cause of good things among men, it followeth not therefore but that He may be sometimes in like manner the cause of evil. God is not variable, there is no changing with Him, He is constant, always alike, ever cause of good, never author of evil: whereof even Balaam the covetous prophet truly prophesied Numbers 23:19). When God altereth things at His own pleasure, saith Gregory, the things alter, but He remaineth the same, and changeth not. Therefore by His prophet Malachi He crieth, “I am the Lord, I change not; and you sons of Jacob are not consumed.”

3. Thirdly, as God changeth not, so there is no shadower turning with Him. He is not like the sun, the moon, the stars, which appear and shine sometimes, but at other times are covered with darkness, which have their changes and their courses, the day now, within ten, eleven, or twelve hours the night; the sun glorious now in beauty, but anon in an eclipse; the moon now in the fall, now in the wan, now new, now a quarter old, and so forth. The planets now in this place of heaven, now in that shining. There is no such turning with God. He is not now good, and now turned to the contrary, for He is always light, and with Him is no darkness at all. For His goodness is always clear, bright, and continually shining. (R. Turnbull.)

Every good gift is from God

There is no such thing as spontaneous goodness among men. If there be anything good in the universe, enjoyed by men or beasts, or any other thing living in heaven or on earth, visible or invisible, it is the gift of God. If it be a transient good, enjoyed and then gone, so that nothing but the memory of the enjoyment is left, it is the gift of God. If it be the fountain of a stream rolling out pleasure or power to irrigate the world, it is the gift of God. The universe may be searched. If anywhere anything can be found which any intellect can perceive, and any heart can feel to be good, it has come from God. If it be good for any man’s body, good for any man’s soul, good for any man’s spirit, if it be good for any other animal, if it be good for the present or future inhabitants of the earth--find a good thing, and you find a Godsend. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

God’s good gifts

First, perhaps, to strike the eye amongst the clusters of our Canaan is home--the father’s reason made silken by affection; the mother’s voice sweeter than any music; the kindly strength of the brother; tire fondness of the sister; the comeliness and sparkle of little children. Friendship is a kindred cluster engolbing rich wine. Another fruition is philanthropy, delicious as a fruit of paradise plucked from some branch running over the wall. Then the eye longs to drink as well as the lip, and the ear to drink as well as the eye, so art displays creations refreshing as the vineyard’s purple wealth; the artist with marble and canvas unsealing fountains of beauty, the musician with pipe and string pouring streams of melody. Science shows the earth a great emerald cup, whose fulness flashes over the jewelled lip. Literature is a polished staff bearing grapes beyond those of Eshcol. Commerce is a whole vine in itself, and we gaze at its embarrassing lavishness with amazed delight. Patriotism is a first rate grape whose generous blood gives to the spirit that unselfish glow which surpasses all sensual pleasure; and the best wine runs last in that sentiment of humanity which gives the crowning joy to the festival of life. (W. L.Watkinson.)

“Again, again, and again!”

Iterum, iterum, iterumque”--“Again, again, and again.” Such was the motto wittily adopted by the English dramatist, Samuel Foote, after he happily became the possessor of a third fortune, when two previous fortunes had been entirely squandered away. “Again, again, and again” be had been favoured; and placed each time in an increasingly responsible position. With each new endowment he had the experience of the past to guide him, and had less excuse to furnish for any misuse of his possessions. Samuel Foote’s motto may be adopted by every reader in relation to the mercies he has received. Not once, not twice only, has God blessed us, but “again, again, and again.” It would be an interesting calculation if the reader could survey his past life and tabulate the number of mercies, in the form of meals, he has received; the number in the shape of suits of apparel, and the number in the persons of friends to cheer life’s pilgrimage. Suppose you are twenty years of age, then God has placed upon your breakfast-table 7,300 refreshing repasts to fit you for the day’s duties. And if you have partaken of four meals a day, then in twenty years the bountiful Giver of every good and perfect gift has provided for you no fewer than 29,200 meals. This is irrespective of the delicious fruits which tie has oftentimes showered into your lap between the stated meals. Are all these mercies to be received and employed by us without acknowledgment? (J. H. Hitchens, D. D.)

God the Source of gifts

In 1808 a grand performance of the “Creation” took place at Vienna. Haydn himself was there, but so old and feeble that he had to be wheeled into the theatre in a chair. His presence roused intense enthusiasm among the audience, which could no longer be suppressed as the chorus and orchestra burst in full power upon the passages, “And there was light.” Amid the tumult of the enraptured audience the old composer was seen striving to raise himself. Once on his feet, he mustered up all his strength, and in reply to the applause of the audience, he cried out as loud as he was able, “No, no! not from me, but,” pointing to heaven, “from thence--from heaven above--comes all!” saying which he fell back in his chair, faint and exhausted, and had to be carried out of the room.

The Father of lights

The Father of lights

Among the good things, the best is light, the physical light which makes the things of the outer world visible, the intellectual light which enables any man to see truths and their relations, the spiritual light which enables a man to walk as seeing Him that is invisible and the invisible world by which He is surrounded. God is the “Father of lights,” the source of all conceivable modes of illumination, and Ha pours down upon men all the good things they have. It is not a shower, an occasional gift of things desirable, but it is an unceasing rain of blessings. It is incessant sunshine. As at all hours rays of light are going off in all directions from the sun, and covering all the space of the solar system, so are God’s gifts going from Him, descending from Him, ceaselessly, in an unbroken stream of blessing, and an uninterrupted radiation of light. He is the Father of lights, the Producer of the heavenly bodies, the Source of all the light of knowledge, all the light of wisdom, all the light of faith, all the light of hope, all the light of love, all the light of joy. If any man arise in his generation to shine as a star in the hemisphere of human society, God kindled the splendour of his intellect and the benign radiance of his high spiritual character, if any woman arise to brighten a home, or send the kindly light of her sweetness over any cheerless portion of our race, it was God who dwelt in her heart, and smiled through her life. If on the coast of our humanity we, mariners on life’s uncertain sea, behold lighthouses so placed along the shore as to enable us to take bearings or shape courses that bring us to our havens of safety, it is God who has erected each such lighthouse and kindled each such pharos. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

The Father of lights

God, as the Author of all our spiritual light, receives a faint illustration from the sun, as the source of natural light. The rays from the sun are of three kinds, differing from one another probably only as to the lengths of the waves of which they are composed.

1. Light rays. Nearly all the light we receive comes from the sun. Even the moonlight is but reflected sunlight. Even when we are in the shade, or in the house where we cannot see the sun, the light we receive is sunlight, dispersed from the particles in the air, reflected from all things around us; even the light of our lamps and gas-burners is but sunlight which has been stored up in the earth. So it is that all our spiritual light, from whatever sources it seems to come, is really from God. Our white sunlight is really composed of thousands of colours, shades, and tints, which fill the world with beauty. Such variety is in the pure light from God, reflected from our manifold natures, needs, and circumstances.

2. Heat rays. Nearly all the heat in the world comes directly or indirectly from the sun. The fires that warm us and that are the source of power are from the wood or coal in which the heat of the sun has been stored. Such is God’s love to us.

3. Chemical rays, which act upon plants and cause the movements of life. These rays are in a sense the source of life, the instrumentality of life. So God is the Source of our spiritual life. Light, love, and life all come from the Father of lights. (Christian Age.)

Prayer for light

I suggest to you all the prayer of a Puritan who, during a debate, was observed to be absorbed in writing. His friends thought he was taking notes of his opponent’s speech, but when they got hold of his paper, they found nothing but these words, “More light, Lord! More light, Lord!” Oh, for more light from the great Father of lights! (C. H.Spurgeon.)

The Father of lights

The sun does not shine for a few trees and flowers, but for the wide world’s joy. The lonely pine on the mountain-top waves its sombre boughs and cries, “Thou art my sun”; and the little meadow violet lifts its cup of blue, and whispers with its perfumed breath, “Thou art my sun.” And the grain in a thousand fields rustles in the wind and makes answer, “Thou art my sun.” So God sits, effulgent in heaven, not for a favoured few, but for the universe of life; and there is no creature so poor or so low that he may not look up with childlike confidence and say, “My Father, Thou art mine.” (H. W. Beecher.)

With whom is no variableness

The unchangeableness of God

CONSIDER GOD, AS HE IS UNCHANGEABLE IN HIS OWN NATURE AND PERFECTIONS. This Author of all must be unchangeable. He cannot change for the better, because He hath in Himself all excellences. He cannot change for the worse, because neither can He have a will or a power to hurt Himself, nor can other beings be able to diminish His perfections, since they have no other strength than He gave them, and receive their nature and qualities from Him. Thus reason teacheth us to conclude that God is unchangeable. The Holy Scriptures also teach us the same.

CONSIDER GOD IN HIS DEALINGS WITH US, AS HE IS OUR RULER, AND SHOW THAT HE IS UNCHANGEABLE IN HIS WILL, HIS PURPOSES, AND DECREES. This is a manifest consequence of what has been said; for, if God is unchangeable in His nature and perfections, whatsoever He decrees and resolves concerning mankind in general, or any of us in particular, He must and infallibly will accomplish. To resolve and not to perform is a certain mark of imperfection,


1. “When God is said to repent, and to be grieved, it is manifest that such popular expressions are to be understood as spoken in condescension to the weakness of our apprehensions.

2. We learn from the Scriptures that God gave the Jews ritual laws, which in themselves and of their own nature were not good, and which He afterwards repealed by His Son. The gospel is the natural and the moral law in full perfection; but, as we are imperfect, and cannot live up to it, it was suitable to perfect goodness and mercy to use some abatement and condescension. Therefore God, in compassion to our infirmities, to exact unsinning obedience, substitutes repentance, which is accepted through the propitiation and mediation of Christ.

3. We find in the Scriptures some promises and threatenings, which are so expressed that they seem to be absolute and irreversible; which yet, as the event showed, were not accomplished; and this seems not to agree with the unchangeable nature of God. The following observations may serve to explain this matter, and to set it in a true light.

(1) All the promises and threatenings contained in the New Testament are conditional, and the condition is plainly expressed. Thus our happiness or misery is made to depend upon our own choice and behaviour. In the Old Testament likewise, the far greater part of God’s promises and threatenings are of the same kind: they are conditional, and the condition is named expressly.

(2) Some of God’s decrees concerning societies or particular persons have no dependence upon the moral behaviour of men; and these consequently are absolute and irreversible.

(3) These decrees excepted which are prophetic and providential, all other declarations, though they may seem absolute and unchangeable, yet are not so; for God reserves to Himself a power of altering them, or suspending their execution.


1. The consideration of God’s unchangeable nature compared with our changeable condition, may teach us to entertain humble thoughts, and to know ourselves to be most imperfect creatures in all respects.

2. Since God is set forth in the Scriptures as the bright and perfect original which in all things we should resemble, His unchangeable nature reminds us that we must endeavour, like Him, to be constant in all that is good, in our love of virtue, and in our lawful promises to one another.

3. The unchangeable nature of God suggests very powerful dissuasions from vice. There is a law which declares that impenitent vice shall end in destruction. This law is eternal and unchangeable. (J. Jortin, D. D.)

The unchangeableness of God

EXPLAIN WHAT IS MEANT. By the immutability of God we mean that He always is, and was, and will be, the same; that He undergoes no changes either of His essence and Being, or of His properties and perfections.


1. From the dictates of natural reason; which tells us that nothing argues greater weakness and imperfection than inconstancy and change. Now if the Divine nature were subject to change, this would cast an universal cloud upon all the Divine perfections, and obscure all other excellences. And, as mutability in God would darken all His other perfections, so would it take away the foundation and comfort of all religion; the ground of our faith, and hope, and fear; of our love and esteem of God, would be quite taken away.

2. This will yet more clearly appear from the Divine revelation of the Holy Scriptures, which tell us that God is unchangeable in His nature and in His perfections, in all His decrees, and purposes, and promises, in tits essence and Being. “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:14); this is His name, whereby He made known Himself to the comfort of His people, and to the terror of the Egyptians, their oppressors. “From everlasting to everlasting Thou art Psalms 90:2). “Thou art the same, and Thy years fail not” Psalms 102:27). “I am the Lord, and change not” (Malachi 3:6). Hence it is that the title of “the living God” is so frequently attributed to Him; and He swears by this, as denoting not only His eternity, but His unchangeableness--“As I live, saith the Lord.” Hither, likewise, we may refer those texts where He is called the “incorruptible God” (Romans 1:23). “The immortal King” (1 Timothy 1:17), and is said “only to have immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16). And He is immutable, likewise, in His perfections; hence it is so often said in the Psalms that “His goodness and His mercy endure for ever”; His righteousness is likewise said to “endure for ever” (Psalms 111:3), and to be “like the great mountains” (Psalms 36:6); not only visible and conspicuous, but firm and immovable; and the same, likewise, is said of His truth and faithfulness, “His truth endureth for Psalms 117:2), and of His power, “In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength” (Isaiah 26:4). And so likewise in His decrees, andpurposes, and promises (Psalms 33:11; Isaiah 14:24; Nu Psalms 89:33). APPLICATION--

1. In regard to sinners and wicked men.

(1) The unchangeableness of God is matter of great terror to wicked men. Let but the sinner consider what God is, and the consideration of His unchangeable nature must needs terrify him (Habakkuk 1:13; Psalms 5:4-5; Exodus 34:7; Psalms 90:11; Psalms 76:7; Revelation 18:8).

(2) This should be a powerful argument to urge sinners to repentance.

2. In reference to good men, the consideration of God’s unchangeableness is matter of great consolation to them; in all the changes and vicissitudes of the world, their main comfort and hope is built upon a rock, it relies upon the unchangeable goodness and faithfulness of God, “all whose promises are yea and amen,” truth and certainty. (Abp. Tillotson.)

The unchanging God

There are two facts for us to look at here; the first fact, that this world and all that is in it are full of change; the second fact, that God who made us, and from whom comes every good gift, is unchanging. The face of the earth and the history of its people are always changing. If we turn from the world of nature and look at ourselves, we shall see change everywhere. Have you ever known what it is to revisit your home after an absence of many years? All changed. The place, once so familiar, looks strange and unnatural now. Yes, the tree lives yet, but the hand that planted it is gone. Seeing these constant changes in the world, in ourselves, in our friends, it becomes a tremendous thought that God is just the same as ever. The same as the God of the new-made universe, the same as the God of Abraham, of Moses; the same who took our flesh and was made man; the same who rose again and ascended into heaven, the Christ of the Gospels, ever the same. One great reason why our lives are so fall of change is that we may learn that this is not our rest. That we may look up from changing earth, to a changeless God, and on eternity, where a thousand years are but as yesterday. The gift of faith in believing, the gift of hope, and of life eternal--these things change not; the gifts of the world, the greatness of the world, pass away, God and His gifts alone remain unchanging.

1. First of all, God’s justice is unchanging.

2. Again, the lovingkindness of God is unchanging.

3. Again, the tender care of God for us is unchangeable.

4. Lastly, the forgiveness of God is unchangeable. God will forgive us our sins on the same conditions as of old, and on no other. (H. J.Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)

No variableness in God

Apart from revelation, men in general would not have supposed that God, the Creator of a changeful world, is Himself unchangeable. The heathen nations appear for the most part to have regarded their gods as beings subject to like passions, to the same fickleness of mind and purpose with themselves. Such was the common belief, though here and there one might be found gifted with a deeper insight (Numbers 23:19). The laws by which he governs as are as fixed and immutable, though to us as unsearchable, as those by which He directs the vicissitudes of the seasons and the succession of storm and calm, of sunshine and rain. The great event in the world’s history, the Incarnation of Christ, took place so as to seem an after-thought--an interruption in the course of things, occasioned by the sin of man; but what says the Scripture 1 Peter 1:20; Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:11) And this being true of the most wonderful work of His providence and love, we may be sure it holds good of all His dealings with us. His gracious purposes towards us do not vary, they are Yea and Amen. Though His favour may seem to be withdrawn, and His face turned away from us, it is not so even for a moment. God is said here to be “the Father of lights.” He is the Source of all illumination. The light of day, the light of earthly happiness, the light of reason, the light of conscience, the light of revelation, all are from Him, and whether they are continued to us or withdrawn, His purpose is the same--to prepare us for a still more marvellous light into which tie is bringing us, even the light of His presence. But while He is so constant, so immutable, what are we? How fickle, how moody, how unstable! We build castles in the air, and hovels on the ground; promising much, performing little; doing a thing to-day, wishing it undone tomorrow; full of bravery as to the future, and cowards for the present, changing our opinions at the bidding of our interests; making Our way through life, not like the bird of passage, intent upon an unseen home, but like the butterfly, in ancient times chosen as the emblem of the human soul, flitting this way and that, without any certain course in view. Above all, as to the most important concerns of our souls, often we keep not the same resolution for two days, or even two hours together--strongly impressed one hour with their overwhelming importance, aroused, distressed, anxious about them; the next, how glad to get rid of them, to be willingly, wilfully forgetful of them! But the changeableness of our nature has its good as well as its evil side. If you have given yourself up to some bad way, you are not to look upon it as a thing from which there is no escape, a prison from which you cannot get forth. If, indeed, you will not make the effort, you must be as you are; if you will, you may be made free. But in no case is it more true than in yours, that “who would be free themselves must strike the blow.” You will be aided, indeed, by God’s good Spirit. But you must strive as if all depended on yourself, and then the most inveterate propensity to evil may be overcome, and you may be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so as to know by your own experience what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (W. G. Humphry, B. D.)

The changeless Father

It is not necessary to press the astronomical figures which St. James employs. It is clear that he means to assert most emphatically two things about God, namely, that with Him there is no alienation of goodness and no obscuration of goodness. As one says, “God is always in the meridian.” (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

God’s inflexibility

He cannot change. He cannot call that no sin which is sin; nor that a small sin which is a great sin; nor that a private sin which is a public sin. His purpose is not the easy, pliable, changeable thing which thine is. He is the God only wise, only righteous, only mighty, and is, therefore, above all such vacillations. O saint, remember that thou hast to do with a holy and unchangeable God! O sinner, think that thou hast also to do with Him, and that this inflexibility is as yet all against thee! He will not alter either His law or His gospel to suit you. You must take them as they are, or perish for ever!

God’s unchangeableness

An old writer says, “A man travelling upon the road espies some great castle; sometimes it seems to be nigh, another time afar off; now on this hand, anon on that; now before, by and by behind; when all the while it standeth still unmoved. Thus it is with God; sometimes He seemeth to be angry with the sons of men, another time to be well pleased; now to be at hand, anon at a distance; now showing the light of His countenance, by and by hiding His face in displeasure: yet He is not changed at all. It is we, not He, that is changed.

God cannot change to become a tempter

There is never a time at which one could say that through momentary diminution in holiness it had become possible for Him to become a tempter. (A. Plummer, D. D.)

God unchangeable

There are many Christians, like young sailors, who think the shore and the whole land do move, when the ship and they themselves are moved; just so, not a few imagine that God moveth, and faileth, and changeth places, because their souls are subject to alteration; but the foundation of the Lord abideth sure.

Verse 18

James 1:18

Of His own will begat He us

Spiritual life: its cause and its grandeur

Let us consider--






WE HAVE GAINED THE SUMMIT OF THE MOUNTAIN OF TRUTH WHEN WE REACH GOD. What wonders, majesties, mysteries, lovelinesses centre in that name! He is the blessed and only Potentate on whom eternity and creation and redemption repose. How God as a sovereign works the salvation of a soul from the slavery and death of sin, in conformity with the laws of free agency and responsibility, may be incomprehensible to us; but surely there is nothing unreasonable in affirming that infinite perfection works out everything in the highest scale of moral excellence, and in accordance with the designs of Divine wisdom, justice and love, amid a world full of sinful but accountable creatures

IN FREE, RICH, AND SOVEREIGN GRACE, THEREFORE, THE LORD BEGETS US. And the outcome means life--spiritual, heavenly, Divine. It is not a mere polishing of the human spirit, or the giving of a right direction to its faculties only. The grandeur of the change is implied in such phrases as, being born of God; passing of death to life; a new creature; quickened with Christ from the death of sin; the washing of regeneration; and the new heart, out of which proceed thoughts, affections, principles, desires, and hopes--all new. The day of its occurrence is called a day of power; a time of refreshing; a springtime of grace. God draws and renews the soul in mercy and truth, and re-traces on it the lines of His own likeness in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. It must not be forgotten that a moral life, however estimable in the sight of men, is not acceptable with God unless it be the offspring of the new birth, By no means can a dead soul please a living God. The tree must be made good by the omnipotent workmanship of God, or the fruit will be apples of Sodom. The necessity of life from God is proved by such varieties of evidence as bespeak the greatness of the gift; and show at the same time the criminal nature and heinous guilt of unbelief. The perfect law of liberty demands a pure heart that loves God with all its strength and mind and soul. From every throne and crown of glory and harp of gold in heaven there flashes the demonstration that a sinful man must be born again before he can enter the gate of the golden city.

“THE WORD OF TRUTH” IS THE INSTRUMENT OF CONVERSION. Truth is God at work on a human spirit, for its rectification and investiture with His own perfection and beatitude. The gospel derives its power from the image of God which it mirrors forth; from the knowledge of sin and wrath which it communicates; from its professed design to set forth the propitiation and grace of the Lord Jesus, to make men partakers of the Holy Ghost, of God’s righteousness, and the sunshine of His favour. More glorious than the law, and revealing life and immortality, it moulds men into saints, and constrains them to love and obedience. The gospel is all grace. Invented by God to communicate this blessedness and glory, its excellency is infinite. It civilises, it moralises, it converts. It is the glory of Jehovah that He gave the gospel; of any people, that they possess it; of a soul, that its unsearchable riches are his own; of heaven, that it is the field where its wealth and its wonders shall be displayed; of eternity, that it alone can contain all its magnificence.

THE DESIGN OF GOD IN REGENERATION IS TO MAKE US “A KIND OF FIRSTFRUITS OF HIS CREATURES.” The incomparable excellence of the new life is seen in the formation of holy character in the sense of duty, which is power. Believers feel themselves to be the property of the great High Priest who bought them; in everything they are desirous to please Him. Under the imperishable principles of the living Word, they are shaped after the Divine likeness in bliss, purity, and moral greatness. It was a law in Israel that the “first fruits” should be offered to God; and preceded by an oblation for sin, they were accepted by God in worship as a grateful acknowledgment that the riches of the harvest and the beauties of spring and the products of the vegetable and animal kingdom are His. And so it is that ransomed souls in whom the Divine life is, are claimed by God; and, devoted to Him, are, through the expiatory sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, most acceptable in His sight. I have redeemed them, and “they are Mine”: I have made a covenant with them, and they are Mine: and they shall be Mine “in the day when I make up My jewels.” Furthermore, “the firstfruits,” ripened by sun, earth, and air, have the beauty of maturity in their fulness and bloom, and were thus an appropriate offering to Infinite perfection. In the mode in which they were offered we are taught the duty and the privilege of all living souls to dedicate themselves to God in faith, fear and joy. For there is great dignity and excellence about the righteous man. He has better principles than others; a better heart; better affections; better dispositions; and better prospects. He is a son of God; one with Christ; righteous in the Just One; a peculiar treasure to the Majesty of Heaven; a king divinely born; and oh! wonderful, partaker of the Divine nature by grace, and destined to be filled with the fulness of God! The sons begotten of God are the firstfruits of His creatures. That is, the regenerated of the human family are the promise and the seal of the great and glorious change that awaits creation. (W. Magill, D. D.)


1. That which engaged God to the work of regeneration was merely His own will and good pleasure (Romans 9:18). God’s will is the reason of all His actions; you will find the highest cause to be will, love, and mercy. God can have no higher motive, nothing without Himself, no foresight of faith and works, He was merely inclined by His own pleasure (John 15:16). This is applicable divers ways.

(1) To stir us up to admire the mercy of God, that nothing should dispose His heart but His own will; the same will that begat us, passed by others: whom He will He sayeth, and whom He will He hardeneth.

(2) It informeth us the reason why, in the work of regeneration, God acteth with such liberty: God acteth according to His pleasure; the Holy One of Israel must not be limited and confined to our thoughts (John 3:8).

2. The calling of a soul to God is, as it were, a new begetting and regeneration. This is useful--

(1) To show us the horrible depravity of our nature; repairing would not serve the turn, but God must new make and new create us, and beget us again.

(2) To show us that we are merely passive in our conversion: it is a begetting, and we contribute nothing to our own forming (Psalms 100:4).

(3) It showeth us two properties of conversion.

(a) There will be life. A man cannot have interest in Christ, but he will receive life from Him.

(b) There will be a change. At the first God bringeth in the holy frame, all the seeds of grace; and therefore there will be a change: of profane, carnal, careless hearts, they are made spiritual, heavenly, holy Ephesians 5:8).

3. It is the proper work of God to begetus: “He begat.” It is sometimes ascribed to God the Father, as here, and so, in other places, to God the Son: believers are “His seed.” (Isaiah 53:10). Sometimes to the Spirit John 3:6). God the Father’s will: “Of His own will begat He us.” God the Son’s merit: through His obedience we have “the adoption of sons” Galatians 4:5). God the Spirit’s efficacy: by His overshadowing the soul is the new creature hatched and brought forth. It is ascribed to all the three Persons together in one place (Titus 3:5-6). It is true, the ministers of the gospel are said to beget, but it is as they are instruments in God’s hands. So Paul saith, “I begat you” (1 Corinthians 4:15); and of Onesimus he saith, “Whom I begat in my bonds” (Philemon 1:10). God loveth to put His own honour many times upon the instruments. Well, then--

(1) Remove false causes. You cannot beget yourselves, that were monstrous; you must look up above self, and above means, to God, who must form you after His own image.

(2) It showeth what an honourable relation we are invested with by the new birth. He begat us. God is our Father; that engageth His love, and care, and everything that can be dear and refreshing to the creature.

4. The ordinary means whereby God begetteth us is the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:15; 1 Peter 1:23). The influences of the heavens make fruitful seasons, but yet ploughing is necessary. It is one of the sophisms of this age to urge the Spirit’s efficacy as a plea for the neglect of the means.

5. The gospel is a word of truth; so it is called, not only in this, but in divers other places (2 Corinthians 6:7; Ephesians 1:12; Colossians 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:15). You may constantly observe that in matters evangelical the Scriptures speak with the greatest certainty; the comfort of them is so rich, and the way of them is so wonderful, that there we are apt to doubt most, and therefore there do the Scriptures give us the more solemn assurance (1 Timothy 1:15). (T. Manton.)

The new birth: its nature, means, and object

THE NEW CREATION. By necessity of birth the state of every infant is guilty, and, therefore, subject to con-detonation. Original sin rests on its head, and subjects it to the penalties of death; so that in law it stands as a criminal convicted, and, therefore, incapable of heavenly privileges. But by the laver of baptism made a recipient of heavenly prerogatives, and thus far innocent in the sight of God, it is capable of receiving those spiritual privileges, which are Divinely ordered to flow from this source. It becomes incorporated into the Church, and, consequently, a member of Christ; whence proceeds its adoption as a son, and its title to an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven. And not only so, but a principle of new life is infused into him. His very nature is changed. In understanding, will, affections, and conscience, he is altogether different.

THE ORIGINAL CAUSE OF REGENERATION. Creation is a prerogative solely vested in God. No finite being possesses it. Man is incapable of changing his own state and nature; as incapable of effecting his own regeneration as of bringing himself originally into being. St. John speaks of the regenerated as “born of God”; St. Paul as “partakers of the Divine nature”; and again, as being “His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”

THE IMPULSIVE OR MOVING CAUSE OF REGENERATION--the will of God The original expression signifies, not “will” merely, but “good will”; that is, a decree of the mind caused by His grace in behalf of fallen men. Man’s regeneration could not proceed from any advantages accruing to God; for the salvation of a thousand worlds could not add to His happiness, nor their destruction detract from His felicity.

THE INSTRUMENTAL CAUSE OF REGENERATION. AS God in His providence always works His pleasure by instruments, so it is in the kingdom of grace; and that which there effects His purposes is the gospel or “Word of truth.” By a single expression of His will He might convert the millions that are on earth; but He prefers treating them as reasonable beings with a moral agency, and using means to make them workers together with Him in their own regeneration. And the means He adopts is “truth,” Divine truth, as expressed in the gospel of His Son, and as set forth in the means of grace flowing through His Church. How these effect their purpose, the mode of their operation, is a mystery hidden in the secrets of God. He has drawn a veil as ranch over His mode of re-creation, as over the philosophy of His own essence, and the original principle of things animate or inanimate. But thus much we do know--that, though He can beget without the Word, the Word cannot beget without Him. It is as seed, which the dew and sun of heaven must act upon, or it will never yield a grain to the will of the sower.

THE FINAL CAUSE OF REGENERATION--dedication to God. Christians are “a kind of first-fruits of His creatures,” the spiritual antitypes, whereof the law-type of the first-fruits was a figure.

1. For, first, they have been redeemed from a bondage worse than that of Egypt. They have been “bought with a price,” and hence are no longer “their own, but His who redeemed them.” They answer, then, the character of first-fruits in the object of the oblation, being God’s by right of purchase and possession.

2. Hence, also, like the first-fruits, they are separated from the rest of their kind. They differ from the unchristian world in nature, in maxims and principles, in spirit and temper, in company and conduct. (John Budgen, M. A.)

Regeneration the gift of God

Here is a splendid specimen of God’s good gifts, in that He has given us eternal life through His Son Jesus. This life is the climax of Divine goodness, as death, the child of sin, is the climax of human badness. It was free. It came by no law, it was produced by no necessity, it was the product of no natural evolution, it arose from His own goodness and lovingness. He emphasises “us” in addressing Hebrew Christians. They were originally chosen by His Divine goodness to be the repository of the oracles of God, the ark, so to speak, which should bear the truth of God down the stream of the centuries. When the fulness of time had come, and Jesus inaugurated the ripened plans for the world’s salvation, those Israelites who earliest became Christians had the distinction of being a kind of first-fruits of all God’s creatures. Christianity had completed to them the revelation that under God the highest beings are men, that humanity is to take the lead of the universe, that men are superior to angels, and men are to live for ever, and are to lead and govern and teach the intelligences of the universe, that those individuals of humanity who are to do this are those who receive eternal life through Jesus Christ, and that the first, as the first-fruits of an abundant harvest, are those Jews who were early in Christ, having been begotten by the Word of truth. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

The second birth

Every real Christian upon earth has been twice begotten--twice born. First, he was born naturally, and he became a man; then he was born spiritually, and he became a new man. His first birth is to be calculated by his age--his second birth by the length of time that he has been living unto God. This second birth is, on various accounts, a far more excellent one than the first, and is attended with privileges of an infinitely higher order and degree.

First, our text points out the AUTHOR of this second birth. “He begat us,” it says--and of whom does it speak thus? He, then, and He alone, is the Author of the second birth--the Father of the spiritual life of the regenerated soul.

His MOTIVE. None of those men to whom He hath given a new birth could be said to deserve to be new born. What, then, determined God to make them new creatures?” Of His own will begat He us.” And so say a multitude of other texts (Ephesians 1:5; Romans 9:18; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5).

THE MEANS WINCH HE EMPLOYED. We have seen why His people were begotten. Let us now see how--“How,” at least, in reference to the outward instrument made use of. For who can tell how the process is carried on within? We do, however, know the outward instrument and means which it pleases God to make use of. It is “the Word of truth.” And what is this “Word of truth”? The blessed gospel, either as it is written or preached. This, says St. James, is the instrument of man’s conversion.

THE END WHICH HE PROPOSED. “That we should be,” says he, “a kind of first-fruits of His creatures.” (A. Roberts, M. A.)

Regeneration more than self-improvement

Malan asked a joiner, who said he wished to render himself worthy of the grace of God, whether he had ever succeeded by careful polishing, in turning a piece of common wood into ebony. (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)

Necessity of the new birth

A man has bought a farm, and he finds on that farm an old pump. He goes to the pump and begins to pump. And a person comes to him and says, “Look here, my friend, you do not want to use that water. The man that lived here before, he used that water, and it poisoned him and his wife and his children--the water did.” “Is that so?” says the man. “Well, I will soon make that right. I will find a remedy.” And he goes and gets some paint, and he paints up the pump, putties up all the holes, and fills up the cracks in it, and has got a fine-looking pump. And he says, “Now I am sure it is all right.” You would say, “What a Joel, to go and paint the pump when the water is bad!” But that is what sinners are up to. They are trying to paint up the old pump when the water is bad. It was a new well he wanted. When he dug a new well it was all right. Make the fountain good, and the stream will be good. Instead of painting the pump and making new resolutions, my friend, stop it, and ask God to give you a new heart. (D. L. Moody.)

With the Word of truth

The Word the instrument of regeneration

Of His own will; by His mere molten, induced by no cause but the goodness in His own breast.

1. To distinguish it from the generation of the Son, which is natural, this voluntary.

2. Not by a necessity of nature, but by an arbitrariness of grace.

3. Not by any obligation from the creature; the will of God is opposed to the merit of man. “Begat us,” or brought us forth; for the same word (James 1:15) is translated “brings forth.” “By the Word of truth,” a title given to the gospel both in the Old and New Testament.

And it is called truth by way of excellency, as paramount to all other truth.

1. Either, by an Hebraism, the word of truth; that is, the true word.

2. Or rather, by way of eminency, as containing a higher truth, more excellent in itself, more advantageous for the creature, than any other Divine truth; wherein the highest glory of God, the sure and everlasting happiness of the creature, is set forth; a word which He hath “magnified above all His name” (Psalms 138:2).

And called the Word of truth.

1. In regard of the Author, truth itself; and the Publisher, He who was “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

2. In opposition to all false doctrines, which can never be the instruments of conversion; for error to convert to truth is the same thing as for darkness to diffuse light, or water to kindle fire.

3. In opposition to the windy and fleshy conceits of men, which can no more be instrumental in the begetting a Christian than mere wind can beget a man.

4. In opposition to the legal shadows, the gospel declares the truth of these types. The law was the word of truth, but referred to the gospel as the great end of it. This contains the whole and ultimate purpose of God, for saving men by Jesus Christ, and in Him enriching them with all spiritual blessings, and not by the works of the law; and thus the Spirit, which enlightens and seals instruction upon our souls, is called “the Spirit of truth” John 14:17.


1. It is not the law that is this instrument. It is true, the law considered in itself is preparatory to cast men down; but the law without the gospel never brought any man to Christ.

2. The gospel is this instrument. It is an instrument to strike off the fetters, and draw out the soul to a glorious liberty.

(1) It is not a natural instrument, to work by any natural efficacy, as food doth nourish, the sun shines, or the air and water cools, or as a sharp knife cuts if it be applied to fit matter. If it were thus natural, it would not be of grace.

(2) It is the only instrument appointed by God to this end in an ordinary way.

(3) It is, therefore, a necessary instrument. In regard of the reasonable creature there must be some declaration. God doth not ordinarily work but by means, and doth not produce anything without them which may be done with them. It is necessary the revelation of this gospel we have should be made. No man can see that which is not visible, or hear that which has no sound, or know that which is not declared. This necessity will further appear, if we consider that it always was so. Adam and Eve were the first after the Fall wherein God did constitute His Church, whose regeneration and conversion were wrought by that promise of the seed of the woman made to them in Paradise (Genesis 3:21). It seems to be the standing instrument of it to the end of the world (Psalms 68:18, compared with Ephesians 4:8-9). It is necessary, by God’s appointment, for all the degrees of the new birth, and all the appendixes to it. As God created the world by the Word of His power, and by the Word of His providence bid the creatures increase and multiply, so by the Word of the gospel He lays the foundation, and rears the building of His spiritual house. As it is not a natural instrument, but the only instrument appointed by God, and therefore, upon these and other accounts, a necessary instrument, so it is an instrument which makes mightily for God’s glory. The meaner the appearance of the instrument, the more evident the power and skill of the workman. Consider, as it is an instrument, so but an instrument. God begets by the Word; the chief operation depends upon the Spirit of God. No sword can cut without a hand to manage it; no engine batter without a force to drive it.


1. Objectively, as it is a declaration of God’s will, as it doth propose to the understanding what it is to be known, in order to salvation. The Spirit gave us an eye to see, and the Word is the light which discovers the object to the eye. The two chief parts of the Word are--

(1) The discovery of our misery by nature.

(2) A second discovery is of the necessity and existence of another bottom. It discovers our misery by nature, and our remedy by Christ.

2. The Word seems to have an active force upon the will, though the manner of it be very hard to conceive. It is operative in the hand of God for sanctification.


1. How admirable, then, is the power of the gospel! It is a quickening Word, not a dead; a powerful Word, not a weak (Hebrews 4:12).

(1) It is above the power of all moral philosophy. How excellent is that gospel which hath done that for the renewing of millions of souls, which all the wit and wisdom of the choicest philosophers could never effect upon one heart!

(2) Above the power of the law. The natural law makes us serve God by reason, the Mosaical by fear, and the gospel by love.

(3) Its power appears in the subjects it hath been instrumental to change. Souls bemired in the filthiest lusts have been made miraculously clean; it hath changed the hands of rapine into instruments of charity, hearts full of filth into vessels of purity; it hath brought down proud reason to the obedience of faith, and made active lusts to die at the foot of the Cross.

(4) The power of it is seen in the suddenness of its operation. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, like the change at the last resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).

(5) And this hath been done many times by one part, one particle of the Word. One word of the gospel, a single sentence, hath erected a heavenly trophy in a soul, which all the volumes of the choicest mere reason could never erect; one plain Scripture hath turned a face to heaven that never looked that way before, and made a man fix his eye there against his carnal interest.

(6) And this power appears in the simplicity of it. The gospel is, then, certainly of Divine authority. It shows us the reason why the gospel is so much opposed by Satan in the world. It begets those for heaven whom he had begotten for bell. We see, then, how injurious they are to God, who would obstruct the progress of the gospel in the world, that would hinder the reading and the preaching of the Word. It informs us that the gospel shall then endure in the world, as long as God hath any to beget. Men may puff at it, but they cannot extinguish it; it is a Word of truth, and truth is mighty, and will prevail. It is a sign, then, God hath some to beget, when He brings His gospel to any place. He hath a pleasure to accomplish, and it shall not return unto Him void. It informs us what an excellent thing is new birth! The end is more desirable than the means; this is the chief end of all the ordinances of God in the world. What a lamentable thing is it that so few should be now begotten by the Word of truth! Hereby you may examine whether you are new begotten. It instructs ministers how to preach. The opening the Word is the life of it, and the true means of regeneration. Highly glorify God for the Word of truth, which is so great an instrument. How thankful should we be for an invention, to secure our estates from consuming, houses from burning, bodies from dying! The gospel, the Word of truth, doth much more than this. Bless God in your hearts--

1. That ever you had the Word of truth made known to you.

2. Much more that it has been successful to any of you. Glorify God in your lives. As you feel the power of it in your hearts, let others see the brightness and efficacy of it in your actions. Prize the Word of truth, which works such great effects in the soul. Value that as long as you live, which is the cord whereby God hath drawn any of you out of the dungeon of death. Pray and endeavour for the preservation and success of the Word of truth. Were there a medicine that could preserve life, how chary should we be in preserving that? The gospel is the tree whose leaves cure the nations Revelation 22:2). Wait upon God in the Word. Where there is a revelation on God’s part, there must be a hearing on ours. Sit down, therefore, at the feet of God, and receive of His words (Deuteronomy 33:3). (S. Charnock, B. D.)

The work of grace

Consider THE WORK OF GOD’S GRACE AMONG MEN IN ITS ORIGIN, This is ascribed to the absolute will of God. Has He not a right to do what He will with His own? and are not all things His own? Is He not absolute, uncontrolled, and sovereign, upholding all things at every moment, managing all creatures infallibly, from the hosts of angels that surround His throne down to the smallest particle of inanimate matter? Men talk of “the laws of nature,” and if it be rightly understood, we need not object to that phrase. But let it be rightly understood. There can be no laws without a law-maker; there can be no administration of laws without a constant, living executive. Uniform, indeed, they are, but that arises from His perfection. The first time that God did anything He did it in the best way: He would not do it worse, and He could not do it better; therefore He always does it in the best way. These agencies are, then, to be depended on as regards uniformity. But they are not less the agencies of a living, present, acting Being. So it is also in the affairs of men. Men are as thoroughly under His power as matter, though not in the same way. It were to limit His power to say that He can only manage matter and must leave mind to itself. He manages mind in all its liberty as infallibly as He does matter in all its inertness. And so is it, too, in the smaller matters of private life. Health, sickness, wealth, poverty, happy homes or bitter afflictions, these are all under the sovereign arrangement of God, and according to “His own will.” So, again, in the matter referred to in the text--the changing of the minds and hearts of fallen men--one is taken, andanother left, according to God’s will. “Many are called, and few are chosen”: “of His own free Will.” Is there danger in this high truth? Undoubtedly. There is danger to fallen man in every truth, arising not from the truth itself, but from the perverseness with which it is treated. Man, living to himself, either neglects or abuses truth, so that it becomes “a savour or death unto death.” To say, then, that there is danger in truth, is to say nothing against the truth. Is there difficulty connected with the truth of which I have been speaking? Undoubtedly there is. Why should there not be? Does it reveal anything of God? Then it inevitably involves a difficulty. With a finite understanding either there must be absolute ignorance of God, or difficulty must be involved where the understanding fails. The slightest glimpse of God involves man in a horizon of knowledge. The extent of the horizon may vary a little between man and man; but to the highest created intellect there must still be a horizon, and in the horizon difficulty; and if that which presents the difficulty now were cleared away by some greater truth being exhibited at a greater distance, that new revelation would but occupy the place of the present one, and still leave a horizon to created intellect to all eternity. We do not pretend, then, to divest the truth of difficulty, in asking man to submit his intellect, as well as his will, to the majesty of God. Is there practical perplexity in the truth before us? Yes, there is, through the perverseness of man, who is ready to take advantage of any imaginary excuse for himself, and to throw the blame of his own sin upon God’s sovereignty. But “let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” There is the pedigree of everlasting death, which man is charged with bringing upon himself. But does it follow, that as man is the author of this evil, he may originate good? “Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of His own will begat He us.” It is thus, then, that the apostle treats this subject. He declares, but explains not.

Consider THE NATURE OF IT. “Begat He us.” The phrase is figurative, and the figure is very expressive. It describes a great moral change; a change as complete as that which takes place physically in the state of an infant between the period before and the period after its birth. All things have become new. The element in which it lives is new; the mode in which life is communicated is new. There is a direct exercise of God’s power upon the man’s spirit, an immediate agency of the Holy Ghost operating on his mind. Therefore it is that we say “you must be born again.” “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Man propagates his likeness, but man born again is brought into the likeness of God. It is not the effect of moral suasion or education, or of outward circumstances; it is not produced by the fear of consequences, or by the love of approbation amongst men, or by any of the thousand motives which actuate men in society, but it is wrought by the immediate agency of God upon the spirit of man, without which no man of the race of Adam can be pure or happy. We are all so thoroughly estranged from Him, so thoroughly taken up with creatures to the practical neglect of Him, and when we are compelled to think of Him we think of Him so unworthily and so selfishly, that without this change no man living can have worthy notions of God, or be happy even if admitted into His presence. Now how simply this accounts for the facts of the case as discovered when you look around you in the world i The unconverted men of this world are, as touching God and the things of God, like a man in a deep sleep as touching the things of the world around him. Imagine a man in a deep sleep; dreaming, possibly speaking in his dream; attentive to the visions of the mind on his bed, but quite unconscious of all that is going on around him. His house takes fire, but he knows nothing of it; he is asleep. The fire gains upon a part of the house which is distant from him; some of his children, perhaps, are burnt; but he knows nothing of it, he is still asleep. The fire approaches his own chamber; his wife, lying by his side, convulsed with terror, expires from suffocation; still he is asleep. The fire, however, at length reaches his own person. Now the spell is broken! he starts into sudden consciousness of what has been taking place. But it is too late: the house, the room, the bed, all are gone, and he sinks amid the ruin. Here is a history, in very few words, of the mass of mankind, as touching the things of God. They are dreaming busily of the affairs of this world; money, pleasure, ambition--these are the visions of their minds, and in the affairs of God they feel no more concern than the sleeping man in the state of his house. The hand of God is stretched out. Some of their enjoyments are cut off; some of their friends taken from them: their children are, it may be, snatched away and laid in an early grave, or a wife removed from their sight. Still the unconverted man dreams on, and he continues dreaming, until the Word of God touches himself. Then it is too late, and he sinks into a ruined eternity. Now this sounds very sad, but it is common, and in the course of the world there is nothing peculiar about it. It is, in a few words, I repeat, the history of the mass of mankind, the mass of the community around. I could not add truly the majority of yourselves; yet I cannot doubt that there are many in this congregation who are still in that position, and to whom God is saying, “Arise, ye that sleep; awake, and Christ shall give you light.” You must be born again, or else be ruined. I know that it is of God’s sovereign will that the new birth is brought about; but He constantly uses means, and I am now using the means which He has appointed for this end, namely, the Word of truth.

THE INSTRUMENT BY WHICH THIS GREAT CHANGE IS PRODUCED IN MAN. It is wrought, not by any charm, but by the secret power of God, using a suitable instrument for the purpose. “The Word of truth” is God’s instrument. “Hear,” says the prophet, “and your souls shall live.” “Faith,” says the apostle, “cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” The work, in virtue of which this change takes place--the work of Christ--is done. All that was necessary has been done; the Word of Godproclaims it as done. And the Word of God further addresses itself to man as requiring this finished work. It addresses itself to him in the condition in which he is found as a fallen creature. It comes to him with light for his understanding, and with love for his affections. These are precisely what he requires; light in his understanding to rescue him from false estimates of things, love in his heart to deliver him from idolatry--the idolatry of creatures. Thus we discover the suitability of the instrument provided by God. Man’s understanding is so darkened that he is constantly making false estimates. One grand item is constantly left out of his calculations; and you know that if any item be improperly left out of a calculation, the result must inevitably be erroneous. The grand item which is omitted in all the calculations of man is eternity. He makes calculations in which are included the things of this world only. I do not say that he takes into account only the brief space during which he himself will be in the world. Many worldly men have a posthumous ambition, and desire to benefit society, present and future. Still their views are confined to this world, and the things of this world, either in the present generation or in the persons of children and children’s children. Improvement in political and social institutions, advances in civilisation, and the amelioration of the condition of the various classes of society, occupy man’s attention; and his calculations, so far as these things are concerned, are often most accurate and valuable. Still the grand item is omitted. When society shall be reaping the benefit of such designs, in the persons of children and children’s children, the fathers and the grandfathers, where are they? Eternity was not in their plans. They planned for the advantage of posterity, and posterity have obtained the benefit. But they planned nothing for their own salvation; and where are they? What did they value most? Let their history speak.

After having stated the origin, nature and instrument of this work in the Church of God, the apostle adds a few words descriptive of THE PRESENT POSITION OF THE CHURCH RELATIVELY TO THE REST OF THE WORLD” “That we should be,” he says, “a kind of first-fruits of His creatures.” The creation is described in Scripture as in a groaning state. Man himself is described as “waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.” It is for the resurrection of the Church that the world is waiting and must wait. No scheme of man can regenerate, because no scheme of man can get rid of sin; no superstructure can stand which has sin at the foundation. The present state of things was intended to take people out of mankind--“a kind of first-fruits.” Why is it said, “a kind of first-fruits?” Because the parallel is not exact. Christ is the first-fruits of the Church. The Church, as the first objects of His care, are to be brought to see what He is. “We shall be like Him when we see Him as He is.” As the harvest is like the first sheaf, so shall the Church be like Christ. (H. McNeile, D. D.)

The regenerating Word

To come to THE EXCELLENCY OF THE WORD, WHICH IS THE MEANS OF OUR REGENERATION, the apostle setteth down the other causes thereof also, so that in James 1:18 there are three causes of our regeneration the most apparent testimony of the goodness of God towards man.

1. The efficient.

2. The instrument.

3. The final cause.

1. The good will of God, the gracious favour and free purpose of God, is the first and efficient cause of salvation and regeneration in men.

2. The instrumental cause and means whereby we are regenerate is the Word of God, which St. James expresseth in this place.

(1) In respect of God, the Word and gospel is the Word of truth, because it is God’s Word and gospel, who cannot lie, therefore His Word is, then, the Word of truth.

(2) As in respect of God, the Author thereof, the gospel may rightly be called the Word of truth, so in respect of Christ, who is the Matter, the very Subject whereof the gospel entreateth, it is the Word of truth, for it entreateth of Christ, and Christ is Truth itself, therefore is the gospel the Word of truth.

(3) Moreover, this Word is inspired from the Spirit.

(4) In respect that every particular thing in the gospel contained is true, therefore it is also the Word of truth. Whatsoever is there mentioned is most true. This is the seed of the new birth, from hence our new birth and regeneration ariseth. Whereof St. Paul speaking, testifieth to the Corinthians that he had begotten them through the gospel. If the gospel of Christ be the Word of truth, why do we not believe it? If it be the instrument of our regeneration, why do we not honourably embrace it? If thereby God hath begotten us again, why are we in any wise so careless of it; we come not to the hearing of this Word of truth? But either we talk out at table, or walk out abroad, or sleep out at home, or play out with company, or spend out in vain exercise, or contrive out with dalliance, or pass out by evil means, that time which is appointed for the preaching and hearing of the Word.

3. The final cause of our regeneration is that we should be the first-fruits of His creatures; that is, that out of the whole mass of mankind and kindreds of the earth, we might be select, culled and chosen out, to be a peculiar people unto Him, whose portion and lot, whose inheritance and peculiar people the saints are.

The Word of God being then so excellent, THE APOSTLE REMOVETH SUCH THINGS AS HINDER THE ATTENDING THEREUNTO; and the things which greatly hinder the Word are two:

1. Babbling and talking when we should hear with attentive and deep silence

2. Anger, when we are taught and reformed by the Word. Thus by the affections and perturbations of our minds, we oftentimes make the Word of God fruitless in us, and so to lose, not only the blessed effect it would work in us, but also, in a manner, the credit which it should have among men whereunto (were we the servants and true disciples of Christ) we would yield all attentive audience. (R. Turnbull.)

The gospel the Word of truth

The glory of a religion lieth in three things--the excellency of rewards, the purity of precepts, and the sureness of principles of trust. Now examine the gospel by these things, and see if it can be matched elsewhere.

1. The excellency of rewards.

2. Purity of precepts. That God’s children are His first-fruits.

The Word hinteth two things.

1. It noteth the dignity of the people of God in two regards--

(1) One is, they are “the Lord’s portion,” His “peculiar people” (Titus 2:14), the treasure people, the people God looked after. The world are His goods, but you His treasure.

(2) That they are the considerable part of the world. The first-fruits were offered for the blessing of all the rest (Proverbs 3:10).

2. It hinteth duty; as--

(1) Thankfulness in all their lives. First-fruits were dedicated to God in token of thankfulness. You, that are the first-fruits of God, should, in a sense of His mercy, live the life of love and praise.

(2) It noteth holiness. The first-fruits were holy unto the Lord. God’s portion must be holy. God can brook no unclean thing. Sins in you are far more irksome and grievous to His Spirit than in others.

(3) It noteth consecration. You are dedicated things, and they must not be alienated; your time, parts, strength, and concernments, all is the Lord’s; you cannot dispose of them as you please, but as it may make for the Lord’s glory; you are not first-fruits when you “seek your own things.” (T. Manton.)

First-fruits of His creatures

First-fruits of His creatures

According to the Levitical ceremonial, the first sheaf of the new crop, accompanied with sacrifice, was presented in the temple on the day after the Passover Sabbath. No part of the harvest was permitted to be used for food until after this acknowledgment that all had come from God. A similar law applied to the first-born of men and of cattle. Both were regarded as in a special sense consecrated to and belonging to God. Now, in the New Testament, both these ideas of “the first-born” and “the first-fruits,” are transferred to Jesus Christ. In His case the ideas attached to the expression are not only that of consecration, but that of being the first of a series, which owes its existence to Him. That which Jesus Christ is, primarily and originally, all those who love Him and trust Him are secondarily and by derivation from Himself.

GOD’S PURPOSE FOR CHRISTIANS IS THAT THEY SHOULD BE CONSECRATED TO HIM. Man’s natural tendency is to make himself his own centre, to live for self and by self. And the whole purpose of the gospel is to decentralise him and to give him a new centre, even God, for whom, and by whom, and with whom, and in whom the Christian man is destined, by his very calling, to live. Now, how can an inward devotion and consecration of myself be possible? Only by one way, and that is by the way of love that delights to give. Consecration means self-surrender; and the fortress of self is in the will, and the way of self-surrender is the flowery path of love. To take the metaphor of Scripture, the consecration which we owe to God, and which is His design in all His dealings with us in the gospel, will be like that of a priestly offering of sacrifice, and the sacrifice is ourselves. So much for the inward; what about the outward? All capacities, opportunities, possessions, are to be yielded up to Him as utterly as Christ has yielded Himself to us. We are to live for Him and work for Him; and set, as our prime object, conspicuously and constantly before us, and to be reached towards through all the trivialities of daily duty, and the common-places of recurring tasks, the one thing, to glorify God and to please Him. Now, remember, such consecration is salvation. For the opposite thing, the living to self, is damnation and hell and destruction. And whosoever is thus consecrated to God is in process of being saved. That consecration is blessedness. There is no joy of which a human spirit is capable that is as lofty, as rare and exquisite, as sweet and lasting, as the joy of giving itself away to Him that has given Himself for us. Such consecration, which is the root of all blessedness, and the true way of entering into the possession of all possessions, is only possible in the degree in which we subject ourselves to the influence of these mighty acts which God has done in order to secure it. “He gave Himself for us that He might purchase for Himself a people for His possession.” My surrender is but the echo of the thunder of His; my surrender is but the flash on the polished mirror which gives back the sunbeam that smites it. We yield ourselves to God, when we realise that Christ has given Himself for us.

GOD’S PURPOSE FOR CHRISTIANS IS THAT THEY SHOULD BE SPECIMENS AND BEGINNINGS OF A GREAT HARVEST. The sheaf that was carried into the temple showed what sun and rain and the sweet skyey influences had been able to do on a foot or two of ground, and it prophesied of the acres of golden grain that would one day be garnered in the barns. And so, Christian men and women to-day, and even more eminently at that time when this letter was written, are meant to be the first small example of a great harvest that is to follow. If Christianity has been able to take one man, pick him out of the mud and the mire of sense and self, and turn him into a partially and increasingly consecrated servant of God, it can do that for anybody. “We have all of us one human heart.” Whatever may be man’s idiosyncrasies or diversities of culture, of character, of condition, of climate, of chronology, they have all the same deep primary wants, and the deepest of them all is concord and fellowship with God. And the path to that is by faith in His dear Son, who has given Himself for us. What a harvest is dimly hinted at in these words of my text; the “first-fruits of His creatures.” That goes even wider than humanity, and stretches away out into the dim distances, concerning which we can speak with but bated breath; but at least it seems to suggest to us that, in accordance with other teaching of the New Testament, “the whole creation” which “groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now,” will, somehow or other, be brought into the liberty and the glory of the children of God, and, as humble waiters and attenders upon the kings who are the priests of the Most High, will participate in the power of the redemption. At all events, there gleam dimly through such words as my text, the great prospects of a redeemed humanity, of a renewed earth, of a sinless universe, in which God in Christ shall be all in all.

GOD’S PURPOSE FOR CHRISTIANS IS THAT THEY SHOULD HELP THE HARVEST. That does not lie in the Levitical ceremonial of the sheaf of the first-fruits, of course. Though even there, I may remind you, that the thing presented on the altar carried in itself the possibilities of future growth, and that the wheaten ear has not only “bread for the eater, but seed for the sower,” and is the parent of another harvest. But the idea that the first-fruits are not merely first in a series, but that they originate the series of which they are the first, lies in the transference of the terms and the ideas to Jesus Christ; for when He is called “the first-fruits of them that slept,” it is implied that He, by His power, will wake the whole multitude of the sleepers; and when it speaks of Him as “the first-born among many brethren,” it is implied that He, by the communication of His life, will give life, and a fraternal life, to the many brethren who will follow Him. And so, in like manner, God’s purpose in making us “a kind of first-fruits of His creatures,” is not merely our consecration and the exhibition of a specimen of His power, and the pledge and prophecy of the harvest, but it is that from us there shall come influences which shall realise the harvest of which our own Christianity is the pledge and prophecy. What do you get Christ for? To feed upon Him? Yes! But to carry the bread to all the hungry as well. Do not say you cannot. You can talk about anything that interests you. And are your lips to be always closed about Him who have given Himself for you? Do not say that you need special gifts for it. Any man and any woman that has Christ in his or her heart can go to another and say, “We have found the Messiah”; and that is the best thing to say. You ought to preach Him. To have anything in this world of needy men who are all knit together in the solidarity of one family--to have anything implies that you impart it. The corn laid up in storehouses gets gnawed by rats, and marred by weevils. If you want it to be healthy, and you own possession of it to increase, put it into your seed-basket; and “in the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand,” and it will come back to thee, “seed for the sower and bread for the eater.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Verses 19-21

James 1:19-21

Swift to hear, slow to speak

Divine legislation for man in a world of evil


LEGISLATION FOR THE EAR. “Be swift to hear.”

1. The duty here enjoined is a readiness to listen to the pure, the generous, the true.

2. Teachableness is the state of mind required. This includes--

(1) Freedom from prejudice.

(2) Eagerness to learn.


1. Evidently he does not mean--

(1) Unsocial taciturnity.

(2) A drawling utterance.

2. The slowness of speech he enjoins is that of cautiousness. Because we are in danger of speaking--

(1) The wrong thing.

(2) At the wrong time. Jesus often manifested a Divine reserve.


1. Men in this world of evil are in danger of being provoked to wrath.

2. Wrath in no case tends to excellence of character.

LEGISLATION FOR THE LIFE. “Lay apart all filthiness,” &c. The summing up of all. It insists upon--

1. Renunciation of all evil.

2. Appropriation of good.

(1) The thing received. “Ingrafted word.”

(a) Essential vitality of gospel.

(b) Its fitness to human nature.

(2) The manner of receiving it.

(3) The reason for receiving it. (U. R. Thomas.)

The judicial temper

This is one of the wisest and most difficult sayings in Holy Scripture. In one line we are bidden to be both swift and slow. It concerns all, and affects the usefulness and happiness of each. We may be helped in our perception of its importance, and also in our power to observe it, if we bear in mind the words which come before. St. James there tells us that all good and perfect gifts come down from the Father of Lights. But, chief among those gifts, he would say, is that “new life,” which he and his beloved brethren had received by means of the Word of truth. Thus he calls Christians the “first-fruits” of God’s creatures. This is a very high title. The hearer is addressed as one not merely invested with great responsibility, but as holding a powerful post. The ground on which the apostle pleads with him is that he is in union with the Father of Spirits, the Most High God. Here we have not only an interesting historical notice, but a great encouragement to us in our present efforts to conduct ourselves aright. Some, indeed, might think that a man in close union with God is freed from much that ethers have to consider, that he is an exalted personage, above control, or at least has some of the supposed liberty of high place allowed to him. But it is not so. Because the Christian stands in the front rank of God’s creatures, he is not, therefore, to carry himself confidently as if he were superior to the lessons which others need, and to be excused from showing that respectful reticence or caution which is idly assumed to become such as are in a lower position. As his spirit has been kindled from on high, the Christian, above all men, carries himself circumspectly. In so far as he is brought spiritually nearer to God, he is swift to hear. As he is closest to the throne, he is, above all, slow to speak. He, near of kin to the Spirit of Divine justice, is, above all, slow to wrath. He should know, better than any, that the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. This teaching of St. James is grand; towards its better realisation let us look at two or three of the chief ways in which we are called to its observance. One is seen in the formation of opinions, especially in regard to religion and the spiritual condition of our neighbour. The other appears in the regulation or economy of our ordinary life. I suppose it may be admitted that a common fault of religious people is impatience of instruction, and a readiness to pass judgment upon others. We are tempted to reverse the order of the Divine precept, and to become slow to hear and swift to wrath. But, in truth, as we are near to God, so we realise our ignorance and His tolerance. Thus, instead of being eager to deliver our verdicts, and to define His will, we hold back, lest our meddling interference and shortsighted decisions should mar the working of the Divine will, if not in larger ways, yet at least in our small circle and surroundings. We check our indignation in the presence of the great tide or stream of justice which is ever fulfilling itself. Perhaps our course in this respect ought to be most obvious and easy as we contemplate the great matters which concern the conduct and state of the Church at large. These are furthest removed from our personal influence. We might be expected to leave them most readily in the hands of God, content with the discharge of those duties which lie immediately around us. In fact, however, the things of the kingdom of heaven are often the most gaily and hastily disposed of by some. We settle doctrines and define the unseen. We give sentence on eternity. We print and publish the mind of God. Take the most ignorant talker you know, and he is ready to tell you all. Go to the wisest, and he will teach you most just in so far as he induces you to share his sense of ignorance. But there is another side to this. The perception that we deal with large things may not lead us into rash conjectures. The greatness of God’s procedure may not have the effect of making us gaily confident, and ready to give sentence. Being gifted with inquisitive if not inquiring minds, we may be provoked at the largeness of our field of vision, and so provoked as to profess our inability to apprehend it with petulance and contempt of religion. There is, however, too much made in these days of man’s intellectual defects, as if they need make him despair, or as if a limited apprehension of God’s will took away the charm and joy of faith. The Christian’s God tells him but little at a time. If we are beset with perplexities we can often do nothing but put them into the hands of Him with whom we are at one through the Christ. We are content for God to rule His own kingdom, and take the helm of His own ship. We are quick to hear, but slow to speak and slow to wrath, believing that He will justify Himself. Thus may we take the advice of St. James in respect to the greater matters of the kingdom of heaven. There is, however, an application of it in small things about which I would say a few words. “The sundry and manifold changes of the world” appear to most of us, not in national or cosmopolitan disorder, not in the conflict of religious opinions, but in the little demands, crosses, and accidents of ordinary life. We are often disturbed and upset by what we call “trifles.” But the grace of God is intended to be used in small things as well as great. So it is in what we call nature. The law of gravitation affects the apple which drops from the tree and the spheres which move on in their courses. The glory of God clothes the lily in the valley and the sun in the sky. Divine force is used equally in the construction of the mountain and the molehill. And so each of us has daily need and opportunity for the application of the great power which rules the world. We are ever called and enabled to exercise Divine grace in the smallest human round of life. Remember that St. James bases his precept upon the fact that we are the first-fruits of “God’s” creatures. And as we use Divine communion so we are really helped to keep the apostle’s rule in our discharge of the homeliest duties. So, indeed, we find it to be. There are few, tempted to irritability, who have not sometimes found themselves checked in it by the employment of the highest motives. Many a man is occasionally enabled to rule his spirit by prayer, and by a very sacred resolve to command his temper and his tongue. True Christianity, as it can be practically exercised by most of us, is seen not in spasms of exceptional piety, or vehement strivings after great ends, but in bearing and forbearing amongst those with whom we most intimately live; in being swift to hear when our sympathy is needed, and slow to wrath when the skin of our feelings is pricked. Sometimes provocations become impotent as they are simply and sturdily ignored. They do so most readily as we realise our high place in God’s kingdom, and our union with the Father of lights from whom every good gift descends, including the power to overcome vexation. Our sense of this union, too, is the secret of much success in work. Here is the Divine economy of strength. Accept the Almighty powers. Ally yourselves with them. Be in league with time and growth. Thus, taking the Divine lines of progress, the work will be God’s, not yours. And this reticence, this abiding, this committing of self to Him that judgeth righteously, all the while with a strenuous reserve of force under control, will raise us above the sundry and manifold changes of the world. We shall not be indifferent to them, as a man on the eve of leaving a mean house for a better one glances with an unconcerned eye at the narrowness which once vexed him; but we shall have a mastery over them, a power of looking down on them with a sense that we are in union with the source of change, growth, and power, all working together in orderly sequence. (H. Jones, M. A.)

Features of God’s family

The ear, the tongue, and the heart have all much to do with the life or practical conduct of the man of God, whose life-business, according to the law of the text, consists in “working the righteousness of God.” The ear for learning, or acquiring what is to be gathered instruction; the tongue for teaching, or giving forth what we have thus acquired in a testimony of our own; the heart for the ordering of the affections or passions which sway the man, and give their own tone to his character, and all for the advancement of the work of righteousness. In reference to that everything that concerns the man is viewed and weighed. In the light of that, as the consummation to be wished for and attained, is the whole character placed, and every element that enters into its composition assigned its due proportion.

Every child of the Father of lights, being “swift to hear,” is to be one who feels that he is a learner or listener, rather than a teacher, who “has not yet attained, neither is already perfect” in the knowledge of the truth to which he is “begotten”--who has more to get than he has to give. This is the pith and point of the contrast and antithesis between “swift to hear” and “slow to speak.”

1. They have a revengeful and fervent love of the truth where-ever it is to be found, and freedom from prejudice, prepossession, and narrow foreclosure of any kind. They are the children of light. The Father of lights is their Father, and, as His genuine children, they like and long above all things to come to His light, to walk in His light, to see more and more, and still more, of His light every day, as long as they live in His world. They have a taste for the truth, an appetite for the truth, whose cravings must be satisfied; a hunger and thirst after the truth which makes them long to see it, or with all saints comprehend it in its length and breadth, and depth and height, as men who are in darkness long for the morning light.

2. These children of the light are meek and lowly in heart, like so many babes; they are conscious of their own ignorance, and know that the truth is a well, or flows from a fountain, too deep for them to sound or fathom with their puny line. Its length and breadth and depth and height, who can tell but the Father of lights? From Him, therefore, they ask instruction. To Him, and the means which He has graciously appointed for the purpose, they come for illumination. What a discipline is required to form this babe-like spirit, and prepare the soil of the heart and understanding for the reception of the good seed that is to be sown, our Saviour explains in many parts of His discourses and parables, and the history of Israel testifies Deuteronomy 8:2-3).

3. In this babe-like spirit, thirsting after the truth, the children of light are so teachable, so credulous, if you will, and full of holy curiosity, that they have an open ear, “an ear to hear,” as our Saviour so often expresses it, wherever there is anything to be heard, an eye to see if there be a ray of light visible in the horizon revealing God the Father of lights.

A great man, and a great teacher of the truth, once said that the difference between himself and others to whom he was preferred was but this, that he was willing to learn from every one, and that there was no one from whom he did not learn something. He was indeed, a great man, if this was his character; for there is nothing in which one man is more distinguished from another. A man who knows himself, and is not proud and hard, but “swift to hear,” makes himself a scholar, a learner, a listener, wherever he goes. Men and things have to him a meaning beyond what they have to others. Poverty and riches, health and sickness, life and death, prosperity and adversity, all come to him charged with a special message. In all, and in each, he hears his Father’s voice (Psalms 107:43). Each in its way, and after its kind, is God’s minister for good, for “all work together for good.”

4. For the truth itself contained in the Word of God they have a special longing and liking, because it is the word and wisdom of God, by which they have been begotten, or made God’s children, and by which they are supported in their spirits, as by their daily bread, and carried forward from the feebleness of babes to the strength and stature of the new Man, the Son of God, who is their Model and the spiritual Sun of their firmament.

Every child of the Father of lights who acts in character, as one begotten with the Word of truth and by the will of God to newness of life, is one who does not run to seed, or exhaust himself, by talking all he knows, or has, of religion, or allowing his life and light to expire and spend itself in words. We should have this day far more religion in our land, and a far higher style and standard of religion in the Church, as God’s witness to the truth--

1. If every man were, as here commanded, slow to speak dogmatically and controversially about knotty or disputed points of doctrine or discipline.

2. We should not have less religion, nor a lower form of Christianity, and less perfect testimony for God, if Christians were slow to speak critically, in a way of judgment on others, or slow to speak of evil, and things that do not concern themselves, in any way.

3. Every man should be slow to speak boastfully of himself, or of himself at all, directly or indirectly, who wishes to be a child and witness of the Father of lights.

Slowness to wrath is another seal of the children of light begotten of the Father’s own will by the Word of truth to be His witnesses in the new creation.

1. Proneness to wrath is a great and heinous sin, and fertile root of innumerable sins. In itself, in all its varieties of form, it is nothing less than murder, the spirit of murder, if it takes the shape of hatred or ill-will to the party who provokes it, or proceeds, as it most frequently does from offended self-love, i part it is of that carnal mind which is enmity against both God and man, and is not, and refuses to be, subject to the law of God. Its emblem in the Word of God is some wild and furious beast, such as the bear, the wolf, the dog, the lion, the serpent.

2. This proneness to wrath is a besetting sin against which the man of God must be on his guard at every moment, and throughout his entire life. In the family, in the Church, in social and political life, in the transactions of business, and in hours of leisure and pleasure, slowness to wrath is the highest law of eternal life. None is so often forgotten. Of none is the breach followed by surer, or swifter, or more fearful penalties even in the present life, to say nothing of that beyond the grave.

3. It is by ceasing from wrath because it is sin against God, and being slow to wrath because this is the righteousness of God, that we become newborn babes or living men. Every victory that we obtain over the temptations or provocations to wrath is a victory over the devil, who is thus removed from us to a greater distance, and leaves our spirits, from which he is thus dispossessed, more open for Christ to come in and take lull possession. And He does come in whenever by slowness to wrath, and ceasing from wrath, and striving against wrath, in every form of bad temper, and ill humour, peevishness, fretfulness, rage, uncharitableness, we cease to keep Him out.

Every living child of the Father of lights is one whose whole aim in life is to work the righteousness of God, and to promote it in others by every means in his power, as well as to beware of everything to its prejudice.

1. It is not an imputed righteousness, in the sense of the righteousness of another, but real, and actual, and personal righteousness, that is called here “the righteousness of God.”

2. This righteousness is righteousness not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

3. This righteousness of God is the work of God’s Spirit.

4. This righteousness is the righteousness of faith working by love, and of faith and love united in a life of God. (R. Paisley.)

Simple duties

1. From that” wherefore.” It is a great encouragement to wait upon the ordinances, when we consider the benefits God doth dispense by them.

2. Again, from the illative particle “wherefore.” Experience of the success of ordinances engageth us to a further attendance upon them. He hath begotten you by the Word of truth, “wherefore, be swift to hear.” Who would baulk a way in which he hath found good, and discontinue duty when he hath found the benefit of it?

3. From that “let every one.” This is a duty that is universal, and bindeth all men. None are exempt from hearing and patient learning. These that know most may learn more. Junius was converted by discourse with a ploughman.

4. From that “be swift,” that is, ready. The commendation of duties is the ready discharge of them. Swiftness noteth two things--

(1) Freeness of spirit; do it without reluctancy when you do it.

(2) Swiftness noteth diligence in taking the next occasion; they will not decline an opportunity, and say, Another day. Delay is a sign of unwillingness.

5. From that “be swift to hear”; that is, the Word of God, for otherwise it were good to be slow in hearing. Divers things are implied in this precept. I shall endeavour to draw out the sense of it in these particulars.

(1) It showeth how we should value hearing: be glad of an opportunity; the ear is the sense of learning, and so it is of grace; it is that sense that is consecrated to receive the most spiritual dispensations (Romans 10:14). Reading doth good in its place; but to slight hearing, out of a pretence that you can read better sermons at home, is a sin. Duties mistimed lose their nature; the blood is the continent of life when it is in the proper vessels; but when it is out, it is hurtful, and breedeth diseases.

(2) It showeth how ready we should be to take all occasions to hear the Word. If ministers must preach “in season and out of season,” a people are bound go hear. Heretofore lectures were frequented when they were more scarce. The wheat of heaven was despised when it fell every day (Amos 8:12).

(3) It noteth readiness to hear the sense and mind of others upon the Word. We should not be so puffed up with our own knowledge, but we should be swift to hear what others can say. You do not know what may be revealed to another; no man is above a condition of being instructed. Divide self from thy opinion, and love things not because they suit with thy prejudices, but truth. “Be swift to hear,” that is, to consider what may be urged against you.

(4) It noteth what we should do in Christian meetings. If we were as patient and swift to hear as we are ready to speak, there would be less of wrath and more of profit in our meetings. I remember when a Manichee contested with Augustine, and with importunate clamour cried, “Hear me, hear me,” the father modestly answered, “Neither hear me, nor I thee, but let us both hear the apostle.”

6. That there are many cases wherein we must be slow to speak. This clause must also be treated of according to the restriction of the context; slow in speaking of the Word of God, and that in several cases.

(1) It teacheth men not to adventure upon the preaching of the Word till they have a good spiritual furniture, or are stored with a sufficiency of gifts. John was thirty years old when he preached first (Luke 3:1). So was our Lord. Hasty births do not fill the house, but the grave.

(2) It showeth that we should not precipitate our judgments concerning doctrines and points of divinity. The sudden conceptions of the mind are not always the best. There should be a due pause ere we receive things, and a serious deliberation ere we defend and profess them.

(3) That we be not more forward to teach others, than to learn ourselves. Many are hasty to speak, but backward to do.

(4) That we do not vainly and emptily talk of things of God, and put forth ourselves above what is meet: it is good to take every occasion, but many times indiscreet speaking doth more hurt than silence.

(5) It teacheth us not to be over-ready to frame objections against the Word. It is good to be dumb at a reproof, though not deaf.

7. Renewed men should be slow to wrath. You must understand this with the same reference that you do the other clauses; and so it implieth that the Word must not be received or delivered with a wrathful heart: it concerneth both hearers and teachers.

(1) The teachers. They must be slow to wrath in delivering the Word.

(a) Let not the Word lacquey upon private anger: spiritual weapons must not be used in your own cause. The Word is not committed to you for the advancing of your esteem and interests, but Christ’s.

(b) Do not easily deliver yourselves up to the sway of your own passions and anger: people will easily distinguish between this mock thunder and Divine threatenings.

(2) The people. It teacheth them patience under the Word.

8. It is some cure of passion to delay it. “Be slow to wrath.” Anger groweth not by degrees, like other passions, but at her birth she is in her full growth; the heat and fury of it is at first, and therefore the best cure is deliberation (Proverbs 19:11). It is a description of God that He is “slow to wrath”; certainly a hasty spirit is most unlike God. (T. Manton.)

Swift to hear, and slow to speak

The well-known wisdom of swiftness to hear and slowness to speak has been inculcated by teachers in all ages. On his disciples Pythagoras enjoined five years of preliminary silence. It was supposed that such a long probation in which there should be total abstinence from speech would give the disciples the advantage of hearing much and hearing it attentively; because the mind was not preoccupied with preparing and uttering an answer. There was supposed to be also the other advantage of pondering what was heard; so that it should be well marked and thoroughly digested. Some one has called attention to the fact that a man has two ears and but one tongue, and inferred therefrom that a man ought to hear at least twice as much as he speaks. As touching the matter of which James had been writing to his brethren, namely, their troubles, the temptations likely to arise there from, this admonition was most timely. They should be swift to hear. God, who had spoken to Elijah in the still small voice, was now speaking to them in their great trials. God is talking. He may speak slowly. We must “wait God’s leisure.” We must be attentive to the voice in the darkness, as little Samuel was to the night-voice in the temple. “God is His own interpreter”; but He never hurries; with Him a thousand years are as a day. And so we must be slow to speak; very slow to make cur own interpretation; and slower in making charges against God. If we speak incontinently, we shall not only be indiscreet, but we shall excite ourselves to anger. The tongue kindles. See what folly it is to be angry against God for His providences. Do we know what God is doing? Does not God know all things? Can He not relieve? And will He not relieve at the proper time and in the proper manner? See what a sin it is: that great, black sin of ingratitude. Has not every good gift enjoyed by us come from Him? What led Him to the bestowment of those gifts? Was not the motive wholly in Him? Does He ever change? Is He not the same? Whatsoever, therefore, comes from Him must be good. It is well to regulate our lives by the great precept, “Swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath,” because of the injurious effect upon others of a failure to be guided thereby. Our circle of relatives and friends know how quick to advance opinions are those who are either ignorant or half-taught. If they discover that we are impatient of the speech of others, are unwilling to hear what may be said upon the other side, they will perceive in us an unchristian lack of charity for others as well as the absence of that modesty which always accompanies wisdom. If they find that we have an offhand opinion upon all the gravest questions which concern God and man, upon the most mysterious problems of the universe, they will lose respect for our utterances, and our influence over them for good will depart. If we are not slow to anger, it will exhibit such a want of self-control as will deprive us of the power of governing others. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

Advice to talkers

The Rev. Mr. Burridge being visited by a very loquacious young lady, who engrossed all the conversation of the interview with small-talk concerning herself, when she arose to retire, he said, “Madam, before you withdraw, I have one piece of advice to give you; and that is, when you go into company again, after you have talked half an hour without intermission, I recommend it to you to stop a while, and see if any other of the company has anything to say.”

The hearing of the Word

1. “Be swift to hear”--“swift,” that is, ready, eager. “To hear”--what? Not everything, assuredly. There is much that is profane, impure, erroneous, frivolous, unprofitable. We cannot be too slow to hear, speaking of this description. The reference here is evidently to “the Word of truth,” mentioned immediately before as that by which God had begotten the believers, who are addressed as a kind of first-fruits of His creatures. That James had it in view throughout is clear from the latter part of the 21st verse. All who would know What is required of them as God’s children, and would be fitted for the doing of their Heavenly Father’s will, must come into close contact with the sacred Scriptures. The secret of getting good from the study of the Word is this swift hearing. But there is a special reference in the expression to the preaching of the gospel by the lips of those entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. We are to be “swift to hear.” That implies very obviously that we are to seize all opportunities of hearing. We are to rejoice when it is said unto us, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Not less does it imply fixed attention in hearing. We may be where the gospel is preached, there frequently, systematically, and yet have our ears closed against the entrance of truth, so as to profit no more than if we were absent.

2. “Slow to speak.” The one is intimately connected with the other. What stands most in the way of many being ready to hear? What but their being so ready to speak. They have little time or taste for receiving instruction--they think themselves so well qualified for giving it. We are not forbidden to speak altogether; indeed, the very opposite is here implied, for what is enjoined is to be slow to do it, not to abstain from doing it entirely. To open our lips is often an imperative duty. We are to reprove evil-doers at fitting seasons, and in a right spirit. We are to instruct the ignorant and the erring as God gives us the opportunity. But even when we are in the path of duty we are to be “slow to speak.” We are to weigh the matter well, and proceed calmly, thoughtfully, deliberately. We are to guard against all rash, reckless judgments, and to be very sure of our ground before we pronounce on the characters or the conduct of others. When constrained to break silence we should do it, not under some sudden impulse, or in a random way, but from conviction and with deliberation.

3. “Slow to wrath.” While being “swift to hear” is a powerful means of sustaining the Christian life, being “swift to speak” is fitted to inflame corruption and stir up unholy passions. There is a place for wrath, and that is here intimated, for you observe it is not wholly forbidden. We are only to be slow to it, not speedy, not hasty. This last injunction is enforced by a weighty consideration (verse 20), “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” “The wrath of man”--literally wrath of man, any such wrath, whatever the extent to which it goes, or whatever the circumstances in which it appears. By “the righteousness of God” we are to understand that which belongs to and is distinctive of His kingdom, that which He requires in all the subjects of it, and calls them to strive after, both in themselves and others. Such a passionate, angry spirit does not further His cause, it promotes not, it works not out, those holy ends for which the Church exists and souls are brought into its fellowship. It kindler the flame of controversy, and divides the friends of truth instead of subduing its enemies. It thus puts obstacles in the way of God’s cause and glory. (J. Adam.)

The pure Word in the foul plot

The synagogue, not the temple, of the Jews was the model on which the primitive Churches were constructed. And in the synagogue the function of teaching was not confined to any one order or caste. Any intelligent and devout man might be called upon, by the ruler of the synagogue, to address an exhortation to the people. And in the primitive Churches any member who had “a gift” might exercise his gift, whether it were native to him or “miraculous,” for the benefit of the congregation. St. James wrote to the Jews of the Dispersion, to men who, though they were Christians, were also Jews; to men, therefore, in whom the habits formed in the synagogue would be familiar and dear. Probably many of them were too eager to hear their own voices, and too reluctant to listen to others. Nor are we so docile, so meek, that we can afford to put aside the exhortation as though it had no warning for us. But the exhortation is introduced by the word “wherefore”--a word which refers us to the previous clause of the letter, or to some phrase in it, for an answer to the question, “What is it that every man is to be swift to hear?” It is “the Word of truth.” If we owe, as we do, every access of spiritual energy to a clearer and larger perception of God’s will as revealed in His Word, should we not gladly take some pains to enlarge our knowledge of that Word, to lay hold with a firmer grasp of the truths we already know? But if we would be “swift to hear,” we must be “slow to speak.” Those whose tongues run fast have but dull ears, and are apt to lose the benefit of eves the little to which they listen. Of this general fact, that he who would be quick to hear must be in no hurry to speak, St. James makes a particular application which may not at once commend itself to our judgment. For as it is the Word of truth that he would have us eager to hear, so also, I suppose, it is the same Word that he would have us slow to utter. “But is it not our duty to speak the truth by which we ourselves have been renewed?” Well, yes, if we are strong enough and wise enough to speak it wisely, and without injury to ourselves and others. But a man may speak, and yet not be swift or eager to speak. And a wise man will be very sure that he knows before be speaks, and so knows his theme as to be able to teach others. Nor does it follow that, because you utter no audible words in church, that you therefore say nothing. You may sit composed in an attitude of decent or devout attention while the minister of the Church tries to open up some word of truth, and yet all the while you may be saying in your hearts, “How am I to meet that bill?” or “For whom shall I vote? and how will the election go?” or, “I wonder whether I shall meet So-and-so after service?” or, “I wonder how the servants, or the baby, are getting on at home?” So far it is easy to trace the meaning and connection of St. James’s words. But when he goes on to add, ,’ slow to wrath,” we naturally ask if quick speech is in any way connected with quick anger. And we have hardly asked the question before we see the answer to it. Hasty speech is a sign of a hasty spirit. And surely he is speaking plain good sense when he warns us that “man’s wrath worketh not God’s righteousness,” that our anger can in no way contribute to the formation or the cultivation of a righteous character, whether in ourselves or in our neighbours. While contending for the righteousness of God, we may become unrighteous by giving way to wrath, and cause our brother to lose his righteousness by provoking him to wrath. We do become unloving, and therefore unrighteous, when we contend with one another, even for a good cause, in these evil heats of passion. Such heats of passion in no way contribute to the culture of the soul. They are bad husbandry. They breed only a foul and rank growth which quickly overruns and impoverishes the soil, and amid which no “herb of grace,” no plant of righteousness, will thrive. If we are wise husbandmen, if we aim at that perfection of character which the apostle holds to be our chief good, we shall clear the soil of these evil growths; we shall cut them down and burn them up, and so make room for the implantation of that Word of truth which brings forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness. (S. Cox, D. D.)

The great talker artificially deaf

The talking man makes himself artificially deaf, being like a man in the steeple when the bells ring. (J. Taylor, D. D.)

Needful to learn silence

A very talkative youth came to Socrates to study oratory. The philosopher charged him double price, stating as a reason that he must teach the youth two sciences; how to hold his tongue, and how to speak.

Swift to hear, slow to speak

Swift accords high praise to Stella (Mrs. Johnson) for the fact that “she never interrupted any person who spoke.” “She listened to all that was said, and had never the least absence or distraction of thought.” (On the Death of Mrs. Johnson.)

A good listener

One of Dean Swift’s most appreciative correspondents, Lady Betty Brownlowe, begging leave to be present at his proposed meeting at Cashel with the Archbishop, expresses her certainty “that you would allow me to be a good listener,” “for I assure you I have too great a desire to be informed and improved to occasion any interruption in your conversation, except when I find you purposely let yourself down to such capacities as mine, with an intention, as I suppose, to give us the pleasure of babbling.” (Letters, May 19, 1735.)

The wrath of man

Bad temper

It is a common saying that every one has a temper but a fool. Certainly he who sees wrong done without feeling angry must be either a fool or a knave. The capability of anger is one of our most valuable endowments. Anger, to use Locke’s words, “is an uneasiness or discomposure of the mind” which springs up when injury has been done to ourselves or to others; and its purpose is to stimulate us to a remedial course. The protective power of this passion is very great. “It is a moral power which tends to repair the inequality of physical power, and to approximate the strong and the weak towards the same level.” But, however useful and necessary, the passion of anger becomes very dangerous when it is not criticised and controlled by reason. When we yield without reflection, anger degenerates into bad temper--into what our text calls “the wrath of man.”

1. Reflection may show us that we have no right to be angry at all. Wrath is only righteous when applied to moral wrong. St. Chrysostom truly says, “Anger is a sort of sting implanted in us, that we might therewith attack the devil, and not one another.” In this matter, as in all others, Christ should be our example. How often must He have been grieved, disappointed, and vexed at the unsympathetic conduct of His disciples. Yet He was never angry with them. His anger was exhibited only against the mischievous cant of the Pharisees and Scribes.

2. Reflection may show that, though we may have cause for anger, yet our anger is excessive. There are persons who are almost always out of temper, who will get in a rage at anything, or even at nothing. They are more enraged at the thwarting of their smallest whim, than at the most flagrant act of injustice inflicted upon any one else. All such excessive manifestations of anger may be cured by thought. For our anger spontaneously subsides, when we become convinced that there is no real ground for it.

3. Reflection may show that though the feeling of anger is unavoidable, and though its manifestation would be legitimate, it will be better for us, under the circumstances, not to show it. The finest illustration of this will be familiar, no doubt, to many of you. It occurs in Victor Hugo’s most celebrated novel, and it deserves to be written in letters of gold. You remember how Jean Valjean, who had been known to himself and others for the last nineteen years as No. 5623, and who has at last been dismissed from the galleys on a ticket-of-leave--you remember bow he walks wearily along in the dust and heat, how he is turned out of the various inns, repulsed from every door, and even chased from an empty dog-kennel into which he has crawled for shelter. He wanders on again, saying despairingly to himself, “I am not even a dog.” By and by he comes to the house of the good old Bishop Myriel. He knocks and enters, and tells his story. The bishop, to the great discomposure of his house-keeper and the utter bewilderment of Valjean, orders a bedroom to be prepared for him, and invites him in the meantime to take a seat at the supper-table. After supper, the bishop conducts him to his room, and the poor man lies down and falls asleep. In the middle of the night he wakes and begins to think; and the result of his thinking is, that he will get up and make elf with the silver dishes which he had seen on the table the previous evening. He does so, but is soon captured by the police and brought back. The bishop dismisses the gendarmes, pretending that he had made the man a present of the silver, and asking him why he had not taken the candlesticks as well. When they were left alone together, he says to the astonished thief, “Jean Valjean, my brother, never forget you have promised to employ this silver which I have given you in becoming an honest man. You belong no more to evil, but to good. I have bought your soul. I reclaim it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” You know the result. From that day Valjean was a changed man. He became one of the noblest characters in the whole range of the world’s fiction. Fiction? Yes; but fiction that is true to fact. Cases will sometimes arise when, by restraining an anger perfectly legitimate and withholding a punishment perfectly merited, we may save a soul from death.

4. Reflection may show us that though the feeling of anger was legitimate, and though it was right and desirable to manifest it, yet the feeling has lasted long enough and may now be dismissed. “Anger resteth,” says the author of Ecclesiastes, “in the bosom of fools.” It arises in the bosom of wise men, but it remains only in the bosom of fools. If we treat men according to the first promptings of anger, we shall almost always do them wrong. It is most important that we should pause and reflect, whenever we have it in our power to inflict punishment. Plato on one occasion, being highly incensed against a servant, asked a friend to chastise him, excusing himself from doing it on the ground that he was in anger. Carillus, a Lacedemonian, said to a slave who had been insolent to him, “If I were not in a great rage I would cause thee to be put to death.” We may then lay it down as a general rule that the more eager we are to inflict immediate punishment, the more necessary it is for us, if we would avoid sin, to pause and reflect. So far I have been endeavouring to show that bad temper--i.e., the thoughtless yielding to the first promptings of anger--is wrong. Now let me point out that it is also impolitic. It is our interest, as a rule, apart altogether from moral considerations, to keep our anger under the control of our reason. An exhibition of bad temper is the very last thing in the world by which to get one’s self better treated. Everybody is pleased to meet, and glad to serve, the good tempered man; but as for the bad-tempered man, people are perfectly satisfied if they can only manage to keep out of his way. The bad policy of ill temper was very neatly pointed out by Queen Elizabeth. There was a certain hot-tempered courtier on whom her Majesty had not yet bestowed the promotion which she had promised. Meeting him one day, she asked him, “What does a man think of when he thinks of nothing?” “He thinks, madam, of a woman’s promise,” was the reply. “Well,” said the queen, walking away, “I must not confute you. Anger makes men witty, but it keeps them poor.” But once more, bad temper is exceedingly unbecoming. In this respect it may be distinguished from anger. As I pointed out before, legitimate manifestations of anger are impressive and awe inspiring--so much so, that they frequently enable the weak to offer a successful resistance to the injuries with which they are threatened by the strong. But the person who is, as we say, “in a temper”--that is, in a bad temper--always appears ridiculous. Jeremy Taylorsays--“It makes the voice horrid, the eyes cruel, the face pale or fiery, the gait fierce, the speech clamorous and loud, and the whole body monstrous, deformed, and contemptible.” I am sure that those who are at all particular about their personal appearance, might be cured for ever of their bad temper, if only they could be induced, during some violent paroxysm, to gaze into a looking-glass. They would receive a shock that would make them changed characters for the rest of their lives. But permit me to add one warning. I have spoken strongly. I believe that there is nothing more contemptible, and few things more mischievous, than bad temper. But though I would have you very strict and inexorable in judging yourselves, I would have you very gentle and lenient in judging others. Take care lest you mistake for bad temper what is only the involuntary manifestation of physical pain. An invalid once told me that her nearest approach to comfort consisted in being only a little uncomfortable. Now this chronic presence of pain should cover a multitude of seeming sins. If, then, you are uncertain whether any one’s hastiness of speech and manner be ill temper or not, whether it be the expression of a bad state of the heart or only a bad state of health, give them the benefit of the doubt--deal very gently with them, I beseech you, for Christ’s sake. (A. W. Momerie, M. A.)

The anger of man

1. From the context. The worst thing that we can bring to a religious controversy is anger. The context speaketh of anger occasioned by differences about the word. Usually no affections are so outrageous aa those which are engaged in the quarrel of religion, for then that which should bridle the passion is made the fuel of it, and that which should restrain undue heats and excesses engageth them. However, this should not be. Christianity, of all religions, is the meekest and most humble.

2. “Worketh not the righteousness.” Anger is not to be trusted; it is not so just and righteous as it seems to be. Anger, like a cloud, blinds the mind, and then tyrannises over it. When you are under the power of a passion, you have just cause to suspect all your apprehensions; you are apt to mistake others, and to mistake your own spirits. Passion is blind, and cannot judge; it is furious, and hath no leisure to debate and consider.

3. From that “anger of man” and “righteousness of God.” Note the opposition, for there is an emphasis in those two words “man” and “God.” The point is, that a wrathful spirit is a spirit most unsuitable to God. God being the God of peace, requireth a quiet and composed spirit. Wrathful men are most unfit either to act grace or to receive grace.

4. The last note is more general, from the whole verse: that man’s anger is usually evil and unrighteous. I shall therefore endeavour two things briefly--

1. Show you what anger is sinful.

2. How sinful, and how great an evil it is.

First, to state the matter, that it-is necessary, for all anger is not sinful; one sort of it falleth under a concession, another under a command, another under the just reproofs of the Word.

(1) There are some indeliberable motions, which Jerome calleth propassions, sudden and irresistible alterations, which are the infelicities of nature, not the sins; tolerable in themselves, if rightly stinted (Ephesians 4:26). He alloweth what is natural, forbiddeth what is sinful.

(2) There is a necessary holy anger, which is the whetstone of fortitude and 2 Peter 2:7; Mark 3:5; Exodus 11:8).

(a) The principle must be right. God’s interests and ours are often twisted, and many times self interposeth the more plausibly because it is varnished with a show of religion; and we are more apt to storm at indignities and affronts offered to ourselves rather than to God.

(b) It must have a right object: the heat of indignation must be against the crime, rather than against the person: good anger is always accompanied with grief; it prompteth us to pity and pray for the party offending.

(c) The manner must be right. See that you be not tempted to any indecency and unhandsomeness of expression.

(3) There is a sinful anger when it is either--

(a) Hasty and indeliberate. Rash and sudden motions are never without sin.

(b) Immoderate, when it exceedeth the merits of the cause, as being too much, or kept too long.

(c) Causeless, without a sufficient ground (Matthew 5:22).

(d) Such as is without a good end. The end of all anger must be the correction of offences, not the execration of our own malice.

Secondly, how sinful it is.

1. Nothing more makes room for Satan (Ephesians 4:26-27).

2. It much wounds your own peace.

3. It disparages Christianity. (T. Manton.)

The secret of calmness

It is said of the Rev. Mr. Clarke, of Chesham Bets, that when one observed to him “there was a good deal in a person’s natural disposition,” he made this answer: “Natural disposition! Why, I am naturally as irritable as any; but when I find anger, or passion, or any other evil temper arise in my mind, immediately I go to my Redeemer, and, confessing my sins, I give myself up to be managed by Him. This is the way that I have taken to get the mastery of my passions.” (K. Arvine.)

Specifics against wrath

Let us see what alleviations and remedies go to the healing of this Satan’s vice of anger. The masters in the spiritual life give us recommendations like these: First, do not listen to tale-bearers. Tale-bearers go about with a lighted torch, not to set our houses on fire, but our hearts. Our hearts are weak, and easily misled; and the story of a tale-bearer is like dropping a hot coal on it. Then he goes away to the next door, but he leaves us in gloom; and, if we are wise men, we will say to him the next time he comes, “You put me in a passion by your last visit. I have since sprung out at my friend, my minister, my church. I have been a fool, and I have repented of my folly all these days.” It is better to throw a firebrand into a man’s house than into his heart. If anything makes you angry, truth, and goodness, and love are lost. Another specific for the angry man is this: Have a low opinion of yourself. If you have a true opinion of yourself, you will not easily be made angry at what is said about you. Think how unworthy you are, how few talents you have; and so, when any one tells you, you have no talents, no ability, no wisdom, you will say to him, “Man, I have said that on my knees this morning; that is nothing new.” It is the proud man, the self-conceited man, who is easily made angry; so cultivate a low opinion of yourself, if you would avoid this sin. Thirdly, have a picture before your mind’s eye of a meek, and peaceful, and loving soul. Dante made Mary appear as the pattern of some sweet grace in every cornice on the sanctifying mount. Give Mary her place in your panorama of meekness, but have her Son always first. He it was who endured such contradiction of sinners, and it is contradiction that rouses us. Have these sweet, inspiring visions ever before you to raise your hearts. Drink in the sweet visions of peace and the Peacemaker. Lastly, use some means of mortifying your anger daily. So says Jeremy Taylor, from whom I have borrowed nearly all my sermon. If a man does not do this, his heart will every day be a misery, and his house a den of wild beasts. (A. Whyte

D. D.)

For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God

Wrath works not the righteousness of God

It must be quite clear to any one who examines into the gospel of Christ as a cause or principle of action, that a meek and quiet spirit should be at once the distinguishing ornament and characteristic of believers. St. James lays down as principles that the unchanging God is the Giver of every good gift; and that it is by an exercise of His omnipotent will that He has begotten His spiritual children with the Word of truth. This appears to me, I say, an irrefutable argument I If we admit the premisses--that we are God’s children, begotten again in Jesus Christ to a lively hope by the Word of His grace; and that, as children partake of the same nature with their parent, so we are made partakers of the Divine nature, which is holiness, then we are bound to admit the conclusion that it is our leading duty to seek to work out the righteousness of God! And, farther, that if the wrath of man worketh not that righteousness, we are bound to eschew it, and then to cultivate that meek and quiet spirit which is according to the mind of Christ. And now consider with me the great object of our vocation propounded in the text. That object is “to work out the righteousness of God.” How holy a privilege is here held up for the exercise of Christians! How worthy an object for the greatest efforts of the greatest mind! I am desirous now to lead your minds to consider the reverse of the apostle’s negative assertion, and to point out to you that if wrath does not work out the righteousness of God, what it is that does. Hear what St. John says upon this point, “Let no man deceive you: He that doth righteousness is righteous, even as He (i.e., God)

is righteous”; “Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother”; this exactly accords with the doctrine of St. James, “Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only.” Whence it appears that an identity of will between God and man produces an identity of effect. An identity, that is, not in the perfectness of the righteousness, nor of the amount of it, but in the general tone of mind and action, so that the converted man seeks no longer as his main object the fulfilment of selfishness and carnal desires, but rather the righteousness of God. If you have felt your spirits stirred within you, and yourselves deeply moved--

1. In the reception of God’s revelation;

2. In feeling that revelation as a reality, not merely believing it as a theory; and--

3. In acting upon it as an unfailing rule of life; then I conceive that you may without presumption apply the comforting promises of the gospel to your own souls, and trust in humility that God’s Spirit within you is working God’s righteousness by you. (Bp. Mackenzie.)

The effect of man’s wrath in the agitation of religious controversies

You ARE ALL AWARE OF THERE BEING MUCH WRATHFUL CONTROVERSY ON THE PART OF MEN RELATIVE TO THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST, wherein the righteousness of God is said by the apostle to be revealed from faith to faith. Is there no danger, we ask, amid the acerbities of such a thickening warfare, that men should lose sight of the mildness and the mercy that lay in that embassy of peace by which it had been stirred? Surely the noise that arises from the wars and the wranglings of earth, falls differently upon the hearing to that sweetest music which descended from the canopy that is over our heads, and which accompanied the declaration of good-will to us in heaven. And so, altogether, that theology which shines immediate from his Bible on the heart of the unlettered peasant, may come with altered expression and effect on the mind of the scholastic, after it has been transmuted into the theology of the portly and polemic folio. The Sun of Righteousness may shed a mild and beauteous lustre upon the one, which to the eye of the other is obscured in the turbulence of rolling vapours, in the lurid clouds of an angry and unsettled sky. When God beseeches us to be reconciled to Him in Christ Jesus, there is placed before the mind one object of contemplation. When man steps forward, and, in the pride or intolerance of orthodoxy, denounces the fury of an incensed God on all who put not faith in the merits and the mediation of His Son, there is placed before the mind another and a distinct object of contemplation. And just in proportion to the varieties of dogmatism or debate will the mind shift and fluctuate from one contemplation to another. It is thus that the native character of Heaven’s embassy may at length be shrouded in subtle but most effectual disguise from the souls of men; and the whole spirit and design of its munificent Sovereign be wholly misconceived by His sinful yet much-loved children. We interpret the Deity by the hard and imperious scowl which sits on the countenance of angry theologians; and in the strife and clamour of their fierce animosities, we forget the aspect of Him who is upon the throne, the bland and benignant aspect of that God who waiteth to be gracious. And, though not strictly under our present head of discourse, there is one observation more which we feel it of importance to make ere we pass on to the next division of our subject. Apart from the transforming effect of human wrath to give another hue as it were to the complexion of the Godhead, and another expression than that of its own native kindness to the message which has proceeded from Him, there is a distinct operation in the mind of an inquirer after religious truth which is altogether worthy of being adverted to. When the controversialist makes an angry demand upon us for our belief in some one of his positions, why, that position may be the offered and the gratuitous mercy of God in heaven, and yet the whole charm of such a proposal may be dissipated, just through that tone and temper of intolerance in which it is expounded to us upon earth. We are aware, all the time, that the truth, as it is in Jesus, must be sustained by argument--that this is one of the offices of the Church militant upon earth, whose part it is to silence gainsayers; and not only to contend, but to contend earnestly, for the faith which was delivered unto the saints. Yet it is not in the clangour of arms, or in the shouts of victory, or in the heat and hurry even of most successful gladiatorship--it is not thus that this overture of peace and pardon from heaven falls with efficacy upon the sinner’s ear. It is not so much in the act of intellectually proving the truth of the doctrine, as in the act of proceeding upon its truth, when we affectionately urge the sinner to make it the stepping-stone of his return unto God--it is then most generally that it becomes manifest unto his conscience, and that he receives in love that which in the spirit of love and kindness has been offered to him.

I shall now consider THE EFFECT OF MAN’S WRATH, WHEN INTERPOSED BETWEEN A RIGHT AND A WRONG DENOMINATION OF CHRISTIANITY. It can require no very deep insight into our nature to perceive, that when there is proud or angry intolerance on the side of truth, it must call forth the reaction of a sullen and determined obstinacy on the side of error. Men will submit to be reasoned out of an opinion, and more especially when treated with respect and kindness. But they will not submit to be cavalierly driven out of it. There is a revolt in the human spirit against contempt and contumely, insomuch that the soundest cause is sure to suffer from the help of such auxiliaries. Nevertheless, it is the part of man, both to adopt and to advocate the truth, lifting his zealous testimony in its favour. Yet there is surely a way of doing this in the spirit of charity; and while strenuous, while even uncompromising in the argument, it is possible surely to observe all the amenities of gentleness and good-will in these battles of the faith. For example, it is not wrong to feel either the strength or the importance of our cause, when we plead the Godhead of the Saviour. Yet with all these reasons for holding ourselves to be intellectually right upon this question, there is not one reason why the wrath of man should be permitted to mingle in the controversy. This, whenever it is admitted, operates not as an ingredient of strength, but as an ingredient of weakness. Let Truth be shrined in argument--for this is its appropriate glory. And it is a sore disparagement inflicted upon it by the hand of vindictive theologians, when, instead of this, it is shrined in anathema, or brandished as a weapon of dread and of destruction over the heads of all who are compelled to do it homage. Truth will be indebted for her best victories, not to the overthrow of Heresy discomfited on the field of argument, but to the surrender of Heresy disarmed of that in which her strength and her stability lie--of her passionate, because provoked, wilfulness. Charity will do what reason cannot do. It will take that which letteth out of the way--even that wrath of man, which worketh neither the truth nor the righteousness of God. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)

The equable temper

Let not external circumstances regulate your demeanour. But let them be governed by your strong will acting under a sense of what is right. Your temper will then be equable as it should be. Just look at the plants. One of their most mysterious properties is that of regulating their temperature. The twigs of the tree are not frozen through in winter, neither does their temperature mount up in summer in proportion to the external heat. Their vitality protects them equally from both extremes. And when you are yielding too much to mere external influences just think of this. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)

Verses 21-22

James 1:21-22

Lay aside all filthiness … and receive with meekness

Of preaching, hearing, and practising the Word of God



INTENDS TO BE A TRUE CHRISTIAN. Plain as this may seem to be, it is fit to be taken notice of.

1. Because there are some who, though they maintain no such principles in speculation, yet in their practice seem to compromise matters between their vicious inclinations and the Divine laws; and are by no means so holy, so free from all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, as the religion of Jesus requires them to be.

2. Because there are others professing Christianity who, even by their doctrines, would reconcile some sorts of impurity with it.

THAT THERE IS A PARTICULAR CONNECTION BETWEEN OUR CLEANSING OURSELVES FROM SUCH POLLUTIONS, AND OUR PROFITABLY HEARING, THE WORD OF GOD. It is self-evident that the better disposed the mind is, the more likely it must be to receive and retain the heavenly instructions. As a vessel which is empty, clean, and sound, is best fitted to receive and retain pure water, or any such liquor poured into it. Whereas, on the contrary, the foul exhalations of lust will be apt to exclude the Word.

THAT MEEKNESS, OR A FREEDOM FROM PASSION AND PREJUDICE, AND WHATEVER ELSE IS IMPLIED IN THAT WORD, IS MORE ESPECIALLY REQUISITE IN ORDER TO SUCH PROFITABLE HEARING. “As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby,” Receive it with the mature understandings of men, but with the unprejudiced wills of children; with the sweetness, innocence, and simplicity of infants.



Reception of the gospel with meekness

THE OBJECT. By the ingrafted Word we are to understand the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which began to be engrafted or planted in the hearts of men when our Lord and His apostles entered on the ministry.

THE PROPERTY ascribed to it.

THE QUALIFICATION, how it must be received.

1. Meekness is such a good disposition of mind as prepares men for the reception of the gospel. It is also such a disposition as may be under the influence of grace, acquired by prudential motives and considerations, such as the notions of God’s infinite power, justice, and truth; the presages of conscience that rewards and punishments must be distributed equally some time or other.

2. And as this good disposition may be acquired by these and the like considerations, for this reason we ought to distinguish it from some things that are thought to bear a resemblance to it.

(1) It ought to be distinguished from nature, which, being defiled by the first transgression, is the greatest obstacle of a ready obedience to God’s commands.

(2) This good disposition of spirit ought to be distinguished from what we call good nature, because this has a regard chiefly to civil conversation betwixt man and man, and discovers itself either by doing or receiving good offices, and that with a desire to please and oblige others.

(3) This good disposition ought to be more especially distinguished from a contemptible, abject spirit, which is a character profane men are wont to affix upon this excellent qualification.

(4) This tractable, meek spirit ought to be distinguished also from that mean, abject spirit that takes shelter in an implicit faith.

3. I proceed to show how necessary this qualification of meekness is to us in the state we are in, and that with reference only to the mysteries of faith. Which way soever the controversy turns, the mysteries of it continue still, and must continue till time shall be no more. In this case whatever assistance we crave from reason, reason rightly informed will tell us, first, that this is not a matter that lies properly within her verge and jurisdiction. (S. Estwick, B. D.)

How we may hear the Word with profit

By “THE WORD” I understand the Word of God; which Word of God may be considered either as it is written in the Scripture, or as it is preached by the ministers of Christ.

WE PROFIT by the Word when we get that good and spiritual advantage from it for which it was designed by God. Now, God hath appointed His Word--

1. For learning and instruction.

2. For conversion. The Word turns man unto God--

(1) As it discovers sin (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).

(2) As it brings people to the confession of sins (Matthew 3:6; Acts 19:18).

(3) As it works a kindly mourning and sorrow for sin (Acts 2:37; Nehemiah 8:9; Jeremiah 3:21).

(4) As it works amendment and reformation (1 Thessalonians 1:9; Colossians 1:5-6).

2. For the building up of those that are called, converted, and sanctified Acts 20:32; Acts 18:27; 1 Timothy 4:6).

4. For consolation (1 Corinthians 14:31; Acts 8:5; Acts 8:8). Now the Word comforts--

(1) As it opens God’s attributes, such as His mercy, wisdom, faithfulness, and power:

(2) As it discovers Christ, the promises and privileges of the saints.

(3) As it discovers and reveals the marks and characters of God’s children.

(4) As it answers the doubts and fears of saints.

How WE SHALL PROFIT by hearing the Word.

1. Hear it attentively (Mark 4:2-3 : Acts 13:16; Revelation 2:7).

2. With meekness.

3. With a good and honest heart.

(1) An understanding heart.

(2) A believing heart.

(3) A loving heart.

4. Keep what you hear of it (Luke 8:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 15:2).

(1) Repeat it in your families.

(2) Talk of it as you go from hearing.

(3) Pray to the Lord that He would preserve the Word in your heart by His Spirit. (Thos. Senior, B. D.)

Ways of treating the Word

There are two ways of treating the seed. The botanist splits it up, and discourses on its curious characteristics; the simple husbandman eats and sows, sows and eats. Similarly there are two ways of treating the gospel. A critic dissects it, raises a mountain of debate about the structure of the whole, and relation of its parts; and when he is done with his argument, he is done; to him the letter is dead; he neither lives on it himself, nor spreads it for the good of his neighbours; he neither eats nor sows. The disciple of Jesus, hungering for righteousness, takes the seed whole; it is bread for to-day’s hunger, and seed for to-morrow’s supply. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

Moral hindrance to the reception of the truth

As “filthiness” (which is the literal import of the original word--a word which occurs only here in the New Testament) of the outward person is offensive to the senses of one who is of cleanly and delicate taste and habits, so offensive is sin or moral evil to the spiritual sensibilities of the new man; of him who is “begotten of God,” and whose “seed remaineth in him”--the seed of the pure “Word of God.” The exhortation will thus correspond very closely with that of another apostle, which is also connected with the representation of believers as belonging to God’s family (2 Corinthians 7:1). Then--retaining the same view of the connection--the word rendered “naughtiness” will naturally be taken in its largest and most general acceptation as meaning “evil”--evil, that is, in principle, affection, and conduct. I am inclined, however, without being positive, to understand the connection of the words as more immediate with the preceding two verses; and as referring especially to the outward expression or utterance of that “wrath of man which worketh not the righteousness of God.” In this way, I would interpret “filthiness” of the vile abusive language in which that wrath is ever prone to indulge itself; of ribaldry--coarse and foul invective. And this corresponds well with the style of the writer, who dwells afterwards at such lengths on the evils of the tongue. The low abuse of a wrathful and misguided zeal was one description of the “filthy communication” which Paul, too, commands believers to “put off.” On the same principle, I take the word rendered here “naughtiness,” to have the sense of malice or maliciousness, rather than the more general sense of evil. These things they were to “lay apart” as hindrances to the reception and influence of God’s Word, as at variance with the temper of mind necessary to its right reception and its right operation. “Meekness” has here the distinctive sense of an humble, calm, childlike docile disposition. It is a state of mind unreservedly open to the instructions and directions of Divine wisdom and Divine authority; conscious of ignorance and of proneness to err. The Word is denominated “the engrafted Word,” or the implanted Word. The more usual figure is that of seed--seed sown in the heart. Hence it is a shoot--a shoot, as it were, from the tree of life--implanted in the same soil by the agency of God’s Spirit. It becomes the plant of grace in the heart; and, in the life, “brings forth fruit unto God.” And of that “implanted Word” it is here added, “which is able to save your souls.” There are two parts of the soul’s salvation, for both of which “the Word of the truth of the gospel” is alike adapted and sufficient. It reveals, in the first place, the ground of the pardon of sin, and of justification before God; and by faith in this ground we are pardoned and justified. That ground consists in the atonement and righteousness of the Divine Saviour--His mediatorial “obedience unto death.” The Word of the truth of the gospel, when believed, thus” saves the soul” from guilt and condemnation, and brings it into a state of life and acceptance with God. Then, secondly, it becomes the instrument of renewal and progressive sanctification--an equally important element of the soul’s salvation. It saves the soul by delivering it from the power and the love of sin. We are “saved by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” And this is by means of the Word. It is then, when brought to the possession of the “inheritance among them that are sanctified,” that the soul is fully and for ever “saved.” This latter part of the gospel salvation James was anxious to impress, in its indispensable necessity, on the minds of those to whom he wrote--the practical influence of the truth which he here exhorts them to receive, and to receive, in all its lessons, with meekly submissive docility--the vanity of all professions of having so received the truth if its practical efficacy was not apparent. This is an invariable characteristic of God’s Word. The doctrinal and the practical are inseparable. It follows here accordingly: “But be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” The great general principle, or truth, in this verse is, that all mere hearing of the Word, and all professed faith of it, are self-delusions, where there is not the experience of its inward holy influence manifested in its outward practical effects--that the hearing and the professing are worthless without the doing, as the required and necessary evidence of our being accepted of God in Christ. The “doing of the Word” is a proof of our being believers of the Word; of our having indeed “received it with meekness,” and of its being divinely and savingly implanted in our hearts. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

The engrafted Word

The engrafted Word

St. James is, by eminence, the apostle of practical Christianity. The keynote of his Epistle is, that the religion of Jesus is less a thing to talk about than a thing to act upon, that Christianity is nothing if it is not a life-controlling, life-moulding power.

Observe now THIS “WORD” IS HERE QUALIFIED. It is called “the engrafted Word.” It is a metaphor drawn from the vegetable world. The sacred metaphors of Scripture teach by pointing out real correspondences between one department of God’s works and another.

1. This metaphor implies that it is no part of the intellectual outfit of the human mind. The Divine Word came to the human mind from without, as a graft to be inserted.

2. It shows its assimilative power. There must be, in the vegetable world, a family likeness to start with, an organic affinity between the stock and the graft. There is a great deal in common between the Word of Jesus and the existing aspirations and beliefs of the human soul. Beneath every heathen superstition fragments of truth which have close fellowship with the one true faith lie buried.

3. In this metaphor we see its power of laying the nature into which it is inserted under contribution. The engrafted Word does not say to human nature that nothing can be done with it, and that it is fit only for destruction. It makes the most of it; it perfects and consecrates human nature by the gifts of grace.

THE MASTER BENEFIT THAT IT CONFERS. “Able to save your souls.” The apostle does not say “it will save them,” that it is a talisman which will operate irrespectively of your wills: Lo, you can check, you can refuse it. But it is able to save.

WE ARE TO RECEIVE THE WORD OF CHRIST IN A PARTICULAR MORAL TEMPER AND ATTITUDE “with meekness.” It is not meant to add fuel to your controversies, it is meant to govern your lives.

THE DUTY INCUMBENT UPON EVERY CHRISTIAN PARENT OF TEACHING HIS CHILD THE FAITH OF CHRIST. Beyond a certain age the stock takes a graft only with difficulty. When all else has been parted with in later life, the early lessons of piety will rise before the soul as from the very grave and thrill it with a new and awful power. (Canon Liddon.)

The reception of the Divine Word

1. “Lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.” The evil to be got rid of is represented as a foul garment or sore encumbrance. It is to be entirely apart. We are to deal thus with all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness. None of it is to be spared. The least of it is vastly too much, and may not be tolerated. The whole of this Amalek is doomed, and woe to him who acts Saul’s part, and makes any exception when carrying on the work of destruction.

2. “And receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls.” This is the end to which the other is only the means. We are to “receive the Word,” that is, admit it into our souls, which we do by believing. Faith accepts it, appropriates it, makes it our own, lodges it within us as a real and abiding possession. This grace has not only a perceptive, but also a receptive power. This is to be done “with meekness,” gentleness, mildness--with a disposition the opposite of an angry, malicious spirit. No other can be suited to receiving the Word, which, in its very nature, is humbling to our pride, and, being all impregnated with love, cannot dwell where enmity continues to retain its seat. The one must make way for the other. And mark how he describes the Word which is to be thus received. Often is it spoken of under the emblem of seed sown, here it is the kindred one of a shoot planted or “engrafted.” The Word had already been lodged within the per, sons here directly addressed. They had been begotten by it, and hence, in their case, it was engrafted. It had been inserted into the old and wild stock of nature by the Spirit, and thus had changed the whole character of the tree and its productions. What they were now to do was to receive it more fully. We need ever to be appropriating afresh Divine truth, using it as the aliment of the spiritual life, drawing from it the motives to, and the materials for, holy living. “Which is able to save your souls.” “Your souls,” that is your whole persons, which are here designated by their principal part, that in which corruption chiefly dwells, and on which destruction chiefly falls. This is the Word’s highest excellence, its crowning distinction. It can do what is here ascribed to it, not efficiently, but only instrumentally. It reveals and offers salvation, spreads out the blessings of it, and commends them to our acceptance. (John Adam.)

Before sermon, at sermon, and after sermon

It is a good thing to be under the sound of the Word of God. Even if the very lowest motive should induce persons to come to hear the gospel, it is nevertheless a good thing that they should come. He that comes near to its fire, even with the intent to quench it, may find himself overcome by its heat. Master Hugh Latimer, in his quaint manner, when exhorting people to go to church, tells of a woman who could not sleep for many nights, notwithstanding that drugs had been given to her; but she said that if they would take her to her parish church she could sleep there, for she had often enjoyed a quiet slumber under the sermon; and he goes the length of saying that if people even come to the sermon to sleep, it is better than not to come at all; for, he adds, in his fine old Saxon, “they may be caught napping.” Yet it will strike you at once that though it be well to come to the hearing of the Word in any case, yet it is better to come in a better way. We should endeavour to gather the most we can from the means of grace, and not pluck at them at random. Let us not lose a grain of the blessing through our own fault. The Word of the Lord is precious in these days; let us not trifle with it.

Let us consider the fit and proper preparation for listening to the gospel, or what is to be done BEFORE HEARING. There should be no stumbling into the place of worship half-asleep, no roaming thither as if it were no more than going to a play-house. We cannot expect to profit much if we bring with us a swarm of idle thoughts and a heart crammed with vanity. If we are full of folly, we may shut out the truth of God from our minds. We should make ready to receive what God is so ready to bestow. When I think of our engagements throughout the week, who of us can feel fit to come into the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High? I mean not into these tabernacles made with hands, but into the inner spiritual temple of communion with God. How shall we come unto God until we are washed? After travelling so miry a road as that which runs through this foul world, can we come unto God without shaking the dust from off our feet? There is a common consent among mankind that there should be some preparedness for worship. In making this preparation our text tells us that there are some things to be laid aside. “All filthiness.” Now sin of every kind is filthiness. By faith in the precious blood of Jesus it must be washed out, for we cannot come before God with acceptance while iniquity is indulged. Filth, you know, is a debasing thing, meet only for beggars and thieves; and such is sin. Filth is offensive to all cleanly persons. However poor a man is he might be clean; and when he is not, he becomes a common nuisance to those who speak with him, or sit near him. If bodily filthiness is horrible to us, what must the filthiness of sin be to the pure and holy God? Moreover, sin is not only offensive, but it is dangerous. He who harbours filth is making a hot-bed for the germs of disease, and thus he is the enemy of his family and of his neighbourhood. The filthy man is a public poisoner, a suicide, and a murderer. Sin is the greatest conceivable danger to a man’s own soul: it makes a man to be dead while he lives, yea, corrupt before he is dead. There are three sins at least that are intended here, and one is covetousness. Hence the desire of unholy gain is called filthy lucre, because it leads men to do dirty deeds which else they would not think of. If the lust of wealth enters into the heart, it rots it to the core. Then, with peculiar correctness, lustfulness may be spoken of as filthiness. How should the thrice holy Spirit come and dwell in that heart which is a den of unclean desires? But in the connection of my text the filthiness meant is especially anger. How can you accept the Word of peace while you are at enmity with your brother? How can you hope to find forgiveness under the hearing of the Word when you forgive not those that have trespassed against you? The wrath of man is so filthy a thing, that it cannot work the righteousness of God; nor is it likely that the righteousness of God will be wrought in the heart that is hot like an oven with passion and malice. But it is added, “and superfluity of naughtiness.” The phrase here used differs not in meaning from the first epithet of the text: it gives another view of the same thing. You have seen a rose-tree which, perhaps was bearing very few roses, and you half wondered why. It was a good rose; and planted in good soil, but its flowers were scanty. You looked around it, and by and by you perceived that suckers were growing up from its roof. Now, these suckers come from the old, original briar, on which the rose had been grafted, and this rose had a superfluity of strength which it used in these suckers. These superfluities, or overflows, took away from the rose the life which it required, so that it could not produce the full amount of flowers which you expected from it. These superfluities of naughtiness that were coming up here and there were to the injury of the tree. Children of God, you cannot serve the Lord if you are giving your strength to any form of wrong; your naughtinesses are springing from the briar stock of your old nature, and the best thing to do is to cut off those suckers and stop them as much as possible, so that all the strength may return into the rose, and the lovely flowers of grace may abound. Oh, that God’s people, when they come up here on the Sabbath-day, may first have undergone that Divine priming which shall take away the superfluity of naughtiness, for there cannot be grafting without a measure of pruning. The gardener takes off from a certain part of the tree a shoot of the old stock, and then he inserts the graft. There must be a removal of superfluities in order that we may receive with meekness “the engrafted Word,” which is able to save our souls. Why is this? Why is a man as he comes to hear the gospel to see to this? I take it because all these evil things preoccupy the mind. If we come here with this filthiness about us, how can we expect that the pure and incorruptible Word shall be sweet to us? Moreover, sin prejudices against the gospel. A man says, “I do not enjoy the sermon.” How can you? What have you been enjoying during the week? What flavour did last night leave in your mouth?

Secondly, I will talk a little about DURING HEARING. How shall we act while listening to the Word?” Receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls.” The first thing, then, is receive. That word “receive” is a very instructive gospel word; it is the door through which God’s grace enters to us. We are not saved by working, but by receiving; not by what we give to God, but by what God gives to us, and we receive from Him. The preaching of the Word is as a shower from heaven; but what happens to the soil if the raindrops fall, but none are absorbed into the soil? Of what avail is the shower if none is drunk in by the thirsty furrows? A medicine may have great healing power, but if it is not received, then it does not purge the inward parts of the body. There must be a receiving of any good thing before the goodness of it can be ours. Then it is added, “receive with meekness.” We stand at the bar to be tried by God’s Word, and searched; but woe unto us if, rejecting every pretence of meekness, we ascend the tribunal, and summon God Himself before us. The spirit of critics ill becomes sinners when they seek mercy of the Lord. His message must be received with teachableness of mind. When you know it is God’s Word, it may upbraid you, but you must receive it with meekness. It may startle you with its denunciations: but receive it with meekness. It may be, there is something about the truth which at the first blush does not commend itself to your understanding; it is perhaps too high, too terrible, too deep; receive it with meekness. What is this which is to be received? “Receive with meekness the engrafted Word.” We are not bidden to receive with meekness men’s words, for they are many, and there is little in them: but receive with meekness God’s Word, for it is one, and there is power in each Word which proceedeth out of His mouth. It is called “the engrafted Word.” Engrafting implies theft the heart is wounded and opened, and then the living Word is laid in and received with meekness into the bleeding, wounded soul of the man. There is the gash, and there is the space opened thereby. Here comes the graft: the gardener must establish a union between the tree and the graft. This new life, this new branch, is inserted into the old stem, and they are to be livingly joined together. At first they are bound together by the gardener, and clay is placed about the points of junction; but soon they begin to grow into one another, and then only is the grafting effectual. This new cutting grows into the old, and it begins to suck up the life of the old, and change it so that it makes new fruit. That bough, though it be in the grafted tree, is altogether of another sort. Now we want the Word of God to be brought to us after a similar fashion: our heart must be cut and opened, and then the Word must be laid into the gash till the two adhere, and the heart begins to hold to the Word, to believe in it, to hope in it, to love it, to grow to it, to grow into it, and to bear fruit accordingly. Once more you are to receive it by faith, for you are to regard the Word as being able. Believe in the power of God’s Word, receive it as being fully able to save your souls from beginning to end. Two ways it does this: by putting away your sin as you accept the blood and righteousness of Christ, and by changing your nature as you accept the Lord Jesus to be your Master and your Lord, your life and your all.

Lastly, let us think of AFTER SERMON. “Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” First, the command is positive--“Be ye doers of the Word.” Sirs, ye have heard about repentance and the putting away of filthiness: repent, then, and let your filthiness be put away. May God the Holy Ghost lead you to do so--not to hear about it, but do it. Ye have heard us preach continually concerning faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you know all about believing; but have you believed? We are to admonish you concerning all those blessed duties which spring out of that living faith which works by love; but it is nothing to hear about these virtues unless you possess them. Doing far surpasses hearing. I believe that with a very little knowledge and great doing of what we know, we may attain to a far higher degree of grace than with great knowledge and little doing of what we know. Observe that the command is put negatively: the text says,” not hearers only.” Those who are hearers only are wasters of the Word. What poor creatures hearers are, for they have long ears and no hands! Ye have heard of him who one day was discoursing eloquently of philosophy to a crowd, who greatly applauded him. He thought he had made many disciples, but suddenly the market-bell rang, and not a single person remained. Gain was to be made, and in their opinion no philosophy could be compared to personal profit. They were hearers till the market-bell rang, and then, as they had been hearers only, they quitted the hearing also. I fear it is so With our preachings: if the devil rings the bell for sin, for pleasure, for worldly amusement, or evil gain, our admirers quit us right speedily. The voice of the world drowns the voice of the Word. Those who are only hearers, are hearers but for a time. Remember, if any man will be lost, he will most surely be lost who heard the gospel and refused it. Over the cell of such a man write, “He knew his duty, but he did it not”; and that cell will be found to be built in the very centre of Gehenna; it is the innermost prison of hell. Wilful rejection of Christ ensures woful rejection from Christ. The text closes with this solemn word: “Deceiving your own selves.” Whereupon says Bishop Brownrig, “To deceive is bad, to deceive yourselves is worse, to deceive yourselves about your souls is worst of all.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The engrafted Word


1. The nature of the gift. The application of truths to the soul in practical activity. The will of God as imparted by revelation. The guidance of God.

2. The benefit of the gift. “Able to save the soul.” Preservation from sorrow, ruin, death.


1. NO meritorious deserving.

2. No heavy price.


1. With thoroughness.

2. With meekness.

3. With docility.


1. Transform the entire nature.

2. Enlighten the life.

3. Bestow salvation. (Homilist.)

The engrafted Word

Various images are given to us to set forth the manifold value of the Word of truth. It is compared to “gold and silver” Psalms 119:72). By St. James in this passage it is called “the engrafted Word,” or “the implanted Word” (R.V.). It is as the graft put into the tree, which, when it takes and grows, changes its whole character and produce. So, when God’s truth enters the soul, it becomes as the germ and origin of a new and holy life. Or, the expression used by St. James may lead us to another view. It is like seed planted in the earth, as in the parable of the Luke 8:11). And, as seed, the Word has a mighty power and operation. We are told that in Mexico you come upon vast masses of masonry, once forming part of their heathen temples, but now utterly overthrown and broken up. But how has this been accomplished? It is by seeds carried by birds of the air, and lodged in the crevices, and these, by and by, have grown and grown until they have split into fragments walls and buildings which once seemed likely to abide for centuries. Thus, too, is there a power in the Word of God to cast down the strongholds of sin, superstition, error, and idolatry, and, whether in countries or in human hearts, utterly to destroy that which dishonours the Lord. We are reminded by St. James in this passage that this Word is “able to save your souls.”

1. It is God’s instrument for convincing men of the evil of their doings. It shows to them the peril of living in unpardoned sin. It leads them to seek the way of life, and, like the multitude on the day of Pentecost, to ask, “What must we do?”

2. The Word is “able to save the soul,” because it ever points to Him who is able to save, even to the uttermost.

3. The Word is able to save because it points out the path of true “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” It gives us the holy law of God in all its breadth and fulness. It calls us to the loftiest standard of self-denial and consecration to God’s service. But to learn these lessons and obtain these benefits, the Word of God must be received into the heart. It may fall upon the ear, or be read by the eye, and yet fail to impart any true blessing. Hence we need to look for the aid of God’s Holy Spirit. Pray much that you may rightly understand what is revealed, and, above all, that you may love the truth and follow it. If you would receive the Word aright, there must be hearty renunciation of all past evil. Cast aside old habits of sloth, self-indulgence, worldliness, evil speaking, and all else that belongs to sin and the flesh. I know full well you cannot do this in your own strength. St. James adds another particular as to the reception of the “Word. It must be received “with meekness” and humility. All pride, prejudice, and self-wisdom must be cast to the winds. You must come to the Word to learn what God would teach you, and you must come in the spirit of a little child. Perhaps we can find no better example of the spirit in which we should hear or read than that of Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus and hearing His Word (Luke 10:39). Yeas there ever a better student in Divine knowledge? (G. Everard, M. A.)

The Bible and human souls


1. It is the Word. Pure. Loving. Faithful. Conquering.

2. It is the engrafted Word. An incorruptible seed.

3. It is the Word to save from spiritual ignorance, prejudice, thraldom, selfishness, sensuality, guilt, &c.


1. Its amazing capability.

2. Its moral obligations. Receive the Word in a humble, reverent, docile spirit. (Homilist.)

Receiving the Word

1. Before we come to the Word, there must be preparation. Many come to hear, but they do not consider the weight and importance of the duty. Christ saith (Luke 8:18).

(1) By way of caution.

(a) Do not exclude God out of your preparations. Usually men mistake in this matter, and hope by their own care to work themselves into a fitness of spirit.

(b) Though you cannot get your hearts into such a frame as you do desire, trust God, and that help which is absent to sense and feeling may be present to faith.

(2) By way of direction. I cannot go out into all the severals of preparations, how the heart must be purged, faith exercised, repentance renewed, wants and weaknesses reviewed, God’s glory considered, the nature, grounds, and ends of the ordinances weighed in our thoughts. Only, in the general, so much preparation there must be as will make the heart reverent. God will be served with a joy mixed with trembling (Genesis 28:17). And again, such preparation as will settle the bent of the spirit heavenward. It is said somewhere, “They set themselves to seek the Lord” Psalms 57:7).

2. Christian preparation consists most in laying aside and dispossessing evil frames. Weeds must be rooted out before the ground is fit to receive the Jeremiah 4:3). There is an unsuitableness between a filthy spirit and the pure holy Word.

3. Put it off, as a rotten and filthy garment. Sin must be left with an utter detestation (Isaiah 30:22).

4. We must not lay aside sin in part only, but all sin (1 Peter 2:1; Psalms 119:104). The least sins may undo you.

5. Sin is filthiness; it sullies the glory and beauty of the soul, defaces the image of God (2 Corinthians 7:1; Job 14:4; Job 15:14).

6. From that “superfluity of wickedness.” That there is abundance of wickedness to be purged out of the heart of man. “All the imaginations of the heart are evil, only evil, and that continually”; it runneth out into every thought, into every desire, into every purpose. As there is saltness in every drop of the sea, and bitterness in every branch of wormwood, so sin in everything that is framed within the soul. Whatever an unclean person touched, though it were holy flesh, it was unclean; so all our actions are poisoned with it.

7. Our duty in hearing the Word is to receive it. In receiving there is an act of the understanding, in apprehending the truth and musing upon it Luke 9:44). And there is an act of faith, the crediting and believing faculty is stirred up to entertain it (Hebrews 4:2). And there is an act of the will and affections to embrace and lodge it in the soul, which is called “a receiving the truth in love,” when we make room for it, that carnal affections and prejudices may not vomit and throw it up again.

8. The Word must be received with all meekness. First, this excludes--

(1) A wrathful fierceness, by which men rise in a rage against the Word Jeremiah 6:10).

(2) A proud stubbornness, when men are resolved to hold their own Jeremiah 2:25).

(3) A contentions wrangling, which is found in men of an unsober wit, that scorn to captivate the pride of reason, and therefore stick to every shift Psalms 25:8-9).

Secondly, it includes--

(1) Humility and brokenness of spirit. There must be insection before insition, meek ness before ingrafting.

(2) Teachableness and tractableness of spirit (James 3:17). The servants of God come with a mind to obey; they do but wait for the discovery of their duty (Acts 10:33). Disputing against the Word, it is a judging yourselves; it is as if, in effect, you should say, “I care not for God, nor all the tenders of grace and glory that He maketh to me.”

9. The Word must not only be apprehended by us, but planted in us. It is God’s promise (Jeremiah 31:33).

10. The Word in God’s hand is an instrument to save our souls.

11. That the main care of Christian should be to save his soul. This is propounded as an argument why we should hear the Word; it will save your souls. Usually our greatest care is to gratify the body. (T. Manton.)

The gospel


1. The distinctness of its existence. It is a “graft” taken from the tree of eternal thought. Christ brought it to the earth, and grafted it upon human souls.

2. The affinity of its nature.

3. The appropriateness of its force. The gospel, when it enters the human soul, lays under contribution all its reasoning, creative, and susceptible powers.

ITS CAPABILITY. AS the buds of a fruitful tree engrafted on some barren plant make the worthless valuable, the unfertile fruitful, so the gospel saves all the soul’s faculties, turns them all to a right use.


1. Not with--

(1) Thoughtlessness.

(2) Servility.

2. With the meekness of--

(1) Docility.

(2) Devotion. (Homilist.)

The ingrafted Word

The man who supposes that all that is necessary is that he run over a passage of Scripture before leaving his bed-chamber, and another at family prayer, and give respectful attention to his clergyman in church, is greatly mistaken. He must work out in life what he reads and hears, as the sap of a tree works out fruit on the stem which is grafted thereon. It is the failure to do this which has so greatly retarded our religious life. Men have heard the Word with their outward ears, and have gone out of the church thinking that the sermon was done, whereas it had not begun in their practice, not even in their hearts. No; the moment I have learned anything from the Word, I must make a strenuous effort to reproduce it in my life. Then the next thing learned, then the rest; and so on, until my life be an incarnation of the Bible. If each hearer did this, how powerful our holy faith would be among men! Compared with this, what is success in controversy, although I could silence every theological opponent? What Biblical learning, although I could repeat every verse of the Bible in every tongue ever spoken among men? Neither of these would save me; but the truth, animated into fruitage by my spiritual vitality, would make me a tree worth a place in God’s orchard. (C. Deems, D. D.)

Preparation of heart

That the Word of God may have full power over us, there must be a preparation of heart for its reception. We must cease to do evil before we can learn to do well. We must lay aside everything which is offensive to the purity of God. By the term “filthiness” James seems to wish to arouse a sense of the loathsomeness of all sin. He does not simply mean that we shall lay aside those particular sins which are disgusting to us; but rather to impress us theft all sin has in it that which makes it disgusting to God. He may here be supposed to be thinking of sins of the flesh, the visible violations of the moral law. Then we are to lay aside all “superfluity of naughtiness.” The word occurs in Romans 5:15 and 2 Corinthians 8:2; it indicates that which goes out to others. Here it means the outflowing of malice. By the one phrase James may be supposed to refer to sins of the flesh, and by the other sins of the spirit. While indulging ourselves either in sins which others cannot see, or sins which show themselves in displays of evil temper, we cannot profit by the Word of God. Meekness, as well as purity, is essential to the proper hearing of the Word of God. One cannot in private approach the study of the Word in the pride of opinion or of scholarship, nor can one resort to the Word for the purpose of sustaining one’s own dogma, and while in that spirit find the Word profitable. You know that this is sometimes done. A man may take down the Bible to find proof passages, just as a lawyer may search the Reports of the Supreme Court to find only that which will sustain his theory of the case which he is to try. In such search he throws aside whatever does not make for his side. He is not learning laws, he is hunting helps. If the Bible be so studied, it will be unprofitable. We must approach it with the docility of little children (Matthew 18:23). We must simply wish to learn what is the mind of the Spirit in the Word of God. (C. Deems, D. D.)

The engrafted Word

It is only in the apprehension of what we really are that the Word begins to be engrafted. We may have correct theories about the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the mischief that it works; but it is when we see ourselves in the mirror, and discern what sin has done for us, that God’s view of sin begins to be ours, and we shrink from it and long to be saved from it, as if it really were what “the Word” represents it as being--a terrible and fatal disease, a very plague-spot in the soul. You shall see two persons going out of the same church, after having listened to the same sermon. They are both, we will say, sinners, and unforgiven sinners; but the one is full of admiration of all that he has heard. “What a magnificent sermon! I never heard anything more scathing than his denunciation of sin. How he did show it up! I really think he is the most impressive preacher I ever listened to.” And the other slips away in silence like one ashamed; his whole life rises up in witness against him. The preacher’s voice has seemed to thunder in his ear, “Thou art the man!” His self-complacency is rent to shreds; he feels, like the publican, as though ha could not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven. He retreats into the solitude of his own chamber, and casts himself upon his knees with a cry of anguish, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” What is it that makes the two to differ? In the one case the Word has been heard, and only heard; and in the other case it has been implanted. In both cases the mirror has been presented; but in the one ease the man has been content with a glance, and then straightway has forgotten what manner of man he was; while the other has looked boldly and resolutely into the glass, until his inmost conscience has been roused and his very heart appalled by what he has seen there. The image still haunts him; he cannot escape from it. His self-esteem is levelled in the dust; he has seen his natural face in the glass, and he has really discovered what manner of man he is. (W. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)

Verses 22-25

James 1:22-25

Doers of the Word, and not hearers only

Doers, not hearers only


THE EXHORTATION. The doers of the Word are those who are ruled by it, who practically comply with its requirements, who not only read, understand, and believe it, but submit to its authority, regulate their tempers and lives by its precepts. The term, too, is expressive of continuance, permanence. We must live and move in this element, we must find our occupation here the chief delight of our existence. It is only such doing that constitutes a doer of the Word. “And not hearers only.” This is what the apostle is anxious to guard against. Mark what it really is which he condemns. It is not being hearers--very far from that. It is the slopping short here, resting in it which he condemns. He finds no fault with those who are hearers, it is with those who are hearers simply and “not doers.” He adds, “Deceiving your own selves.” Whatever the foundation on which they build, whatever the process by which they reach the conclusion in their own favour--all who think well of themselves, who believe that they are God’s people, and on the way to heaven, while they are hearers only and not doers--all such must, and do delude themselves. They are helped to this result. The father of lies tries to persuade them that they are all right as to their spiritual character. He labours to hide from us the truth, and to draw us into the meshes of soul-ruining error.


1. A picture of the mere hearer. “He is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass”--literally, “the face of his birth,” the countenance with which he was born--marking out the external, material sphere within which the figure lies, and suggesting all the more vividly the spiritual counterpart, the moral visage which belongs to us as the posterity of Adam, the sin-marred lineaments of the soul. He sees it with all its peculiarities, more or less pleasing, reflected in the glass before which he stands, there confronting him so that he cannot but note its features. The hearer of the gospel does something remarkably similar. In his case the glass, that into which he looks, is the Divine Word. It unfolds the corruption which has put its foul impress on every part of our being, the dark lusts and passions that hold sway within us, the features and workings of our carnal, enmity-possessed minds. It is the great business of the preacher to raise aloft the glass of Divine truth, to set forth faithfully alike the law and the gospel. The hearer does not thrust it away from him, and he turns not aside from it as do many. He does not withdraw to a distance, or push the mirror toward his neighbour. He looks into it more or less closely. The likeness varies greatly as to distinctness of outline and depth of impression. Self is in some measure presented to view and is recognised. The apostle proceeds with the comparison. The man having beheld himself, “goeth his way,” is off to his business or his pleasure, to meet his friends, or pursue his journey. He is soon engaged with other matters. In a few moments the appearance he presented is forgotten. The beholding in this ease corresponds to the hearing and its effects in the other. As the looker turns away from the glass, so does the mere hearer from the Word. The latter leaves the sanctuary, and the bodily departure is connected with a mental one far greater. The attention is relaxed, or rather drawn off, and directed toward an entirely different class of subjects. The mind goes back to its pursuit of lying vanities; and thus comes the deep and sad forgetfulness. Convictions fade away, feelings cool down, and the old security returns.

2. A picture of the real doer (verse 25). Here the comparison begins to be dropped. The figure and the thing represented, symbol and substance, blend together; no longer kept separate, they pass into each other. Observe what this man looks into. It is “the perfect law of liberty.” He calls it “perfect.” It is so in itself as the transcript of God’s perfect character, and as leading all who apprehend and use it aright forward to man’s perfect stature. It is this alike in its nature and its effect. And it is “the perfect law of liberty.” It is a law of bondage to those who leek into it in its covenant form, and strive to earn heaven by their own merits. But in regeneration it is written on the heart, and the new creature is in harmony with it, delights in it, so that conformity to it is no longer a forced but a spontaneous thing. Thus he is free, not by being released from law, but by having it wrought into his being, made the moving, regulating power of his new existence. Notice, now, how this man deals with the mirror thus described. “Whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty.” We have here a different word from that which expresses the beholding in the former instance. It signifies to stoop down and come close to an object so as to see it clearly and fully. It points to a near, minute, searching inspection. And, in this ease, it is not a temporary exercise. The eyes are not soon averted and directed to other objects. For it is added, “and continueth therein”--continueth still looking into the perfect law, meditating on its requirements, seeking to understand their nature and feel their power. He is arrested, and cannot turn his steps or his eyes towards other objects. This is characteristic of every one truly subdued by the inspired Word. He continues and the effect appears. Such a man is “not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work.” He remembers the truth apprehended, and strives to reduce it to practice. It sets all his powers of mind and body in motion. He is a “doer of the work,” or literally of work, pointing not to this or that act of obedience, but to a constant, thorough, loving, free course of service. In all things he aims at doing the will of God, and he so far succeeds. “This man”--emphatically, not the other, not any other--this man, he, he alone--“shall be blessed in his deed” or his doing. He shall be blessed, not only after or through his doing, not merely on account of it or by means of it, but in his doing. Obedience is its own reward. It yields an exquisite satisfaction, and, while it leads on in a heavenward progress, draws down large foretastes of the fulness of joy, the rivers of pleasure, which are at God’s right hand for evermore. (John Adam.)

Two sorts of hearers

James has no speculations. He is not satisfied with the buds of hearing, he wants the fruits of obedience. We need more of his practical spirit in this age. Preachers must preach as for eternity, and look for fruit; and hearers must carry out what they hear, or otherwise the sacred ordinance of preaching will cease to be the channel of blessing.


1. They are hearers, but they are described as hearers who are not doers. They have heard a sermon on repentance, but they have not repented. They have heard the gospel cry, “Believe!” but they have not believed. They know that he who believes purges himself from his old sins, yet they have had no purging, but abide as they were, Now, if I address such let me say to them--it is clear that you are and must be unblest. Hearing of a feast will not fill you; hearing of a brook will not quench your thirst. The knowledge that there is a shelter from the storm will not save the ship from the tempest. The information that there is a cure for a disease will not make the sick man whole. No: boons must be grasped and made use of if they are to be of any value to us.

2. Next, these hearers are described as deceiving themselves. You would very soon quit my door, and call me inhospitable, if I gave you music instead of meat; and yet you deceive yourselves with the notion that merely hearing about Jesus and His great salvation has made you better men. Or, perhaps, the deceit runs in another line: you foster the idea that the stern truths which your hear do not apply to you.

3. And then, again, according to our text, these people are superficial hearers. They are said to be like to a man who sees his natural face in a glass. When a g]ass is first exhibited to some fresh discovered negro tribe, the chieftain as he sees himself is perfectly astonished. He looks, and looks again, and cannot make it out. So is it in the preaching of the Word; the man says, “Why, those are my words; that is my way of feeling.” To see yourself as God would have you see yourself in the glass of Scripture is something, but you must afterwards go to Christ for washing or your looking is very superficial work.

4. The text accuses these persons of being hasty hearers--“he beholdeth himself and goeth his way.” They never give the Word time to operate, they are back to business, back to idle chit-chat, the moment the service ends.

5. One other thing is said about them, namely, that they are very forgetful hearers--they forget what manner of men they are. They have heard the discourse, and there is an end of it. That travelling dealer did well who, while listening to Mr. William Dawson, when he was speaking about dishonesty, stood up in the midst of the congregation and broke a certain yard measure with which he had been in the habit of cheating his customers. That woman did well who said that she forgot what the preacher talked about, but she remembered to burn her bushel when she got home, for that too had been short in measure. You may forget the words in which the truth was couched, if you will, but let it purify your life. It reminds me of the gracious woman who used to earn her living by washing wool. When her minister called upon her and asked her about his sermon, and she confessed she had forgotten the text, he said, “What good could it have done you?” She took him into her back place where she was carrying on her trade. She put the wool into a sieve, and then pumped on it. “There, sir,” she said, “your sermon is like that water. It runs through my mind, sir, just as the water runs through the sieve; but then the water washes the wool, sir, and so the good word washes my soul.” Thus I have described certain hearers, and I fear we have many such in all congregations; admiring hearers, but all the while unblest hearers, because they are Hot doers of the work. One thing they lack--they have no faith in Christ. It does surprise me how some of you can be so favourable to everything that has to do with Divine things, and yet have no personal share in the good treasure. What would you say of a cook who prepared dinners for other people and yet died of starvation? Foolish cook, say you. Foolish hearer, say

Are you going to be like. Solomon’s friends the Tyrians, who helped to build the temple and yet went on worshipping their idols?

BLESSED HEARERS--those who get the blessing.

1. Now, notice that this hearer who is blest is, first of all, an earnest, eager, humble hearer. He does not look upon the law of liberty and go his way, but he looketh into it. He hears of the gospel, and he says, “I will look into this. There is a something here worth attention.” He stoops and becomes a little child that he may learn. He searches as men do who are looking after diamonds or gold. That is the right kind of hearer--an earnest listener whose senses are all aroused to receive all that can be learned.

2. It is implied, too, that he is a thoughtful, studious, searching hearer--he looks into the perfect law. He is sacredly curious. He inquires; he pries. He asks all those who should know. He likes to get with old Christians to hear their experience. He loves to compare spiritual things with spiritual, to dissect a text and see how it stands in relation to another, and to its own parts, for he is in earnest when he hears the Word.

3. Looking so steadily he discovers that the gospel is a law of liberty: and indeed it is so. There is no joy like the joy of pardon, there is no release like release from the slavery of sin, there is no freedom like the liberty of holiness, the liberty to draw near to God.

4. But it is added that he continues therein. If you hear the gospel and it does not bless you, hear it again. If you have read the Word of God and it has not saved you, read it again. It is able to save your soul.

5. Lastly, it is added that this man is not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the Word, and he shall be blessed in his deed. Is he bidden to pray? He prays as best he can. Is he bidden to repent? He asks God to enable him to repent. He turns everything that he hears into practice. I remember reading of a certain person who heard of giving a tenth of our substance to God. “Well,” said he, “that is right, and I will do it”: and he kept his promise. He heard that Daniel drew near to God three times a day in prayer. He said, “That is right; I will do it”; and he practised a threefold approach to the throne of grace each day. He made it a rule every time he heard of something that was excellent to practise it at once. Thus he formed holy habits and a noble character, and became a blessed hearer of the Word. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

The Word of words


1. It is only superficially known.

2. It leaves men in self-ignorance.


1. It is thoroughly investigated.

2. It confers the highest blessing.

(1) Imparts complete liberty.

(2) Ensures constant happiness. (U. R. Thomas.)

Hearing and doing


1. The Word tells us whence we are.

2. The Word tells us what we are.

3. The Word tells us how to get rid of sin.

4. The Word helps us to form character for heaven.


1. Hearing is but the preliminary of doing.

2. Hearing can never shake off the load of sin; while doing lays the burden upon Christ.

3. In the all-important work of cultivating character, mere hearing hardens and distorts; while doing the will of God is the way to become like Him.

4. Doing the will of God is the only adequate test of love, which is the essence both of religion and salvation. (J. T. Whitley.)

The danger of mistaking knowledge for obedience

1. Knowledge without obedience ends in nothing. This is the folly which our Lord rebukes in the parable of the man that built his house upon the sand.

2. It inflicts a deep and lasting injury upon the powers of our spiritual nature. In childhood, boyhood, manhood, the same sounds of warning, and promise, and persuasion, the same hopes and fears, have fallen on a heedless ear, and a still more heedless heart: they have lost their power over the man; he has acquired a settled habit of hearing without doing. The whole force of habit--that strange mockery of nature--has reinforced his original reluctance to obey.

3. It is an arch-deceiver of mankind. It deceives the man into the belief that he really is what he so clearly knows he ought to be. Again, there are men who can never speak of religious truth without emotion; and yet, though their knowledge has so much of fervour as to make them weep, it has not power enough to make them deny a lust.

4. This knowing and disobeying, it is that makes so awful the responsibilities of Christians. Knowledge is a great and awful gift: it makes a man partaker of the mind of God; it communes with him of the eternal will, and reveals to him the royal law of God’s kingdom. To hold this knowledge in unrighteousness, to imprison it in the stifling hold of an impure, a proud, or a rebellious heart, is a most appalling insult against the majesty of the God of truth. (Archdeacon Manning.)

Profitless hearing

The necessity of good preaching is well understood among men. The importance of good hearing is not so well understood. To render the message effective, it is not enough that the former be furnished. Be it as faultless as was the preaching of the Son of God, a man may sit under it and go from it totally unbenefited. It leaves on his heart the impression, not of the seal upon the plastic wax, but such an impression as the face makes upon the mirror which for a moment reflects its features--transient as the glancing sunbeam. It therefore becomes an imperative duty to keep clearly before the minds of our hearers their liability to the danger of rendering the gospel ministry wholly ineffectual for good to themselves.

THE VACANT HEARER. God’s Word is weighty truth. Its topics are God’s nature, acts, the human soul, its condition, responsibilities, destiny. The subjects of its principal concern lie not on the surface of things, to be grasped without an effort. But whether simple or recondite, its teachings will teach him nothing who will not meet that demand of intellectual attention which instruction on any theme necessarily imposes on the learner. There are many such vacant listeners in God’s house. With some it is a constitutional mental sluggishness, a mind untaught to reflect. But with many more it is an aversion of heart to religious thought, which arms the will against it. Add also the many who bring the world with them into Jehovah’s temple, and there worship Mammon instead of God.

THE CURIOUS HEARER. This spirit brings the attention to bear upon a subject, but merely to dissect, to criticise. It is an active spirit far removed from the unconcernedness of the vacant hearer, and the sanctuary affords a favourite scene for its exercise. It may employ itself upon the subject of discourse, and enjoy the pleasure of remarking the beauties, the well-timed proprieties of its presentation; or, more commonly, it may busy itself with taking exceptions at the taste, or the judgment, which has guided the selection or treatment of the theme. Or the attention fastens itself upon the manner of the preacher, forgetful from whose court the speaker holds his commission, and what words of life and death hang on his lips.

THE CAPTIOUS HEARER. Here the attention is excited, only to be turned against the teachings of religion. There are those who occasionally attend upon God’s worship, as they sometimes read His Word, for no other end but to cavil, to deny, to oppose. Their business is just what was that of some in former days, in whose hearts Satan reigned; who followed Christ’s ministrations for the--shall I say, magnanimous or pitiful--purpose to catch Him in His words! But sometimes, where the mind likes not to confess itself sceptical upon the subject of Christian doctrine, it covers its hostility to this by a very ingenious, not ingenuous transfer of its dislikes to the announcer of this doctrine.

THE FASHIONABLE HEARER. The Sabbath is welcomed, as it helps them to show off an equipage more elegant than some rival’s; or to display to advantage their personal attractions. Their own proud selves are the centres round which every thought revolves.

THE SPECULATING HEARER. I use this phrase in its mercantile sense, to indicate those whose selfishness leads them to make a pecuniary gain of godliness. These visit the sanctuary to further their business facilities. It is respectable to attend Divine worship. The infl