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With respect of persona--
Respect of persons
THE SIN AGAINST WHICH THE WARNING IS DIRECTED (James 2:1-59.2.4).
1. It is stated, James 2:1. “My brethren,” he begins, addressing them in a conciliatory manner, well fitted to gain their compliance. He calls on them not to hold, in a certain way, “the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is this which alike determines the state and forms the character of the really religious. It is only by believing with the whole mind and heart that we are united to the Saviour, and reap the benefits of His great redemption. “Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ”--that is, hold it not--“with respect of persons.” It is more exactly in than with respect of persons, in the practice of anything so obviously opposed to its very nature. And it is strictly “in respectings of persons,” the plural being used to indicate the various ways of doing what is here forbidden. By it we are to understand partiality, favouritism, unduly preferring one before another, making a distinction among men, not on the ground of character or real worth, but of outward condition, of worldly position and possessions.
2. It is illustrated (James 2:2-59.2.4). “For”--this is what I mean, here is a specimen of the kind of thing I am warning you against--“if there come into your assembly”--that is, your congregation, or place of meeting for divine worship. It brings out the offensiveness of the proceeding, that it took place in the sanctuary, where, even more than in a court of justice, everything of the sort was most unseemly. “If there come in,” he says, “a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel”--one who appeared by these marks to be a person of superior position. “With a gold ring,” literally, gold-fingered, having his hands adorned probably with more than a single ring, it might be with several. “In goodly apparel”--having a splendid garment, as the word signifies, bright, shining, glittering, either from its colour or its ornaments. But another enters, and what a contrast! “And there come in also a poor man in vile raiment.” Here is one of mean condition, as shown by his attire, the dirt and rags with which he is covered. “And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing,” marking the deference paid to him by saying, “Sit thou here in a good place”--sit here, near the speaker, in the midst of the assembly, in a comfortable and honourable seat; while your language to the poor is, “Stand thou there”--stand, that is suitable and sufficient for you; and stand there, away at a distance, behind the others, it may be in some remote corner, some inconvenient position; or, “Sit thou here under my footstool”; if you sit at all among us let it be on the ground beneath, at my feet, in a mean, low situation of that kind. Supposing them to act in such a manner, he asks (James 2:4), “Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?” “Are ye not partial in yourselves?” do ye not make distinctions among yourselves, or are ye not at issue with yourselves? Is not this way of acting at variance with your principles as Christians? Is there not a wide difference between the faith you profess and the course you thus pursue? Now, what is it that he condemns? Is it showing any deference to those of larger means and higher station? Certainly not. What he condemns is honouring the rich at the expense of the poor--cringing to the one and trampling on the other, and doing this, besides, in the house of God, in the Church of Christ, where all should meet on the same footing, should be viewed as standing on a common level. Favour is still shown to the rich man, where it is neither his right nor his interest to have any, but to rank along with the poorest of his brethren. This is done at times by softening down or keeping back the truth from fear of offending certain influential classes or parties. We have a noble example of the opposite in the case of Howe when acting as one of Cromwell’s chaplains. He found that a fanatical and dangerous notion regarding answers to prayer prevailed at court, and was held strongly by the Protector himself--a notion which some who knew better did their utmost to encourage. Regarding it with abhorrence, Howe thought himself bound, when next called to preach before Cromwell, to expose the fallacies on which it rested, and the pernicious consequences to which it led. “This accordingly he did, doubtless to the no small surprise and chagrin of his audience. During his discourse, Cromwell was observed to pay marked attention; but as his custom was, when displeased, frequently knit his brows, and manifested other symptoms of uneasiness. Even the terrors of Cromwell’s eye, however, could not make Howe quail in the performance of an undoubted duty; and he proceeded in a strain of calm and cogent reasoning to fulfil his honourable but difficult task. When he had finished, a person of distinction came up and asked whether he knew what he had done? at the same time expressing his apprehension that he had irretrievably lost the Protector’s favour. Howe coolly replied that he had discharged what he considered a duty, and could leave the issue with God. This was worthy of his sacred office, and his own noble character. The same thing is frequently done in the way of pursuing a subservient course of conduct toward the rich with the view of gaining their favour.
II. THE REASONS BY WHICH THE WARNING IS ENFORCED.
1. The poor are the special objects of the Divine regard (James 2:5). “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith?” He has chosen them in His eternal decree; and in pursuance of this, chosen them by separating them to Himself, through the effectual operation of the Holy Ghost. And whom has He thus chosen? “The poor of this world”--the poor in respect of it, in the things of it, the poor temporally. They constitute the class to which the man in vile raiment belonged. “Rich in faith”--that is, God has chosen them to be this--He has destined them to it, and made them it by His election. “And heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him.” The Christian is rich at present. He has large possessions, and these belong to the domain of faith. Bat be has also glorious prospects. Already he is a son, but he is also an heir. His inheritance is a kingdom, than which there is nothing greater, nobler, more coveted here below.
2. The rich had shown themselves the great enemies of Christ’s people and person. He appeals to his readers, “Do not rich men oppress you?” lord it over you, exercise their power against you--“and draw you,” drag you; for it implies force, violence--“before the judgment-seats.” They did so by vexatious law-suits, by false charges, by persecuting measures. Not only so, be asks, “Do they not blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” The reference is not to the lives of inconsistent Christians, but to the foul-mouthed charges and curses of avowed enemies of the gospel. The worthy or honourable name intended is that of Christ. What title, then, had this class to such a preference? Did their relation to the Church, either in its members or its Head, call for any special favour at the hands of believers? Quite the reverse. (John Adam.)
A comprehensive admonition
I. Observe--A RELATIONSHIP. The apostle addresses them as his “brethren.”
1. So they were, nationally; they were Jews as well as himself.
2. They were his “brethren” naturally partaking of the same humanity with him.
3. They were his “brethren” graciously. Here a nobler relation is gendered, and this comprehends all that “worship God in the Spirit, who rejoice in Christ Jesus, and who have no confidence in the flesh.”
4. They were His “brethren” impartially, without any distraction; that is, He was regardless of everything that might seem to render them unworthy the privilege as to conditions, or gifts, or office.
II. Here is A CHARACTER. “The Lord of glory.” You well know to whom this belongs; and this is not the only place where this title is given; for Paul, streaking of the princes of this world, said, “None of them knew, for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” Isaiah Isaiah 33:21) makes use of a similar term as applied to the blessedGod Himself. The radical idea of glory is brilliancy; the second idea is excellency displayed; and there are three ways in which this character will apply to our Lord and Saviour.
1. He is “the Lord of glory” because of His personal excellencies. “He is fairer than the children of men; He is the chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely.” All the glory of creatures, whether in earth or in heaven, in their aggregate, is nothing more to His glory than a drop to the ocean, or a beam to the sun.
2. He is called “the Lord of glory,” because He produces and confers all the excellencies possessed by creatures. “By Him kings reign, and princes decree justice.” “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.”
3. There is a world made up entirely of excellencies and glory, when nothing else is to be found, and of that world He is the only Sovereign, the only Disposer.
III. A PECULIAR ENDOWMENT. “The faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Not that we have this faith in equal possession and exercise with Him. No, in all things He had the pre-eminence. He received the Spirit without measure, and in every one of its graces He excelled.
1. But the apostle does not speak here of the faith He possessed and exercised, but of that faith, first, of which He was the Author. He is called, “The Author and the Finisher of faith,” and this is as true of the graces of faith as of the doctrine of faith.
2. When the apostle speaks of the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, he means, secondly, that of which He is the Object. Therefore, they that believe are said to believe in Him.
IV. A PROHIBITION “Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ with respect to persons.” This regards, not its character, but its perversion; its abuse, and not its nature. “Have it not,” says James; that is, let it never be so seen in you, let it never be so exercised in you. Here, however, it will be necessary to observe that there is a lawful respect of persons, and there is an unlawful one. The thing, therefore, is not forbidden in every instance, and in every measure and degree. For, in the first place, it is impossible to respect some persons. You will never feel towards a Nero as you would towards a Howard. And if it were possible, it would be improper. The Scripture justifies the distinctions and inequalities of life, and rank and office are to be regarded. But the meaning here is that other things being equal, you should not show more regard to one person than to another, because of some things belonging to him which have no relation to cases of duty or conscience. Let us exemplify the thing four ways.
1. The first is judicially. In a case of this kind pending, how very improper it would be to be lenient to the rich and severe to the poor!
2. The second class we call ministerial. If God blesses the labours of a minister to your soul, you will esteem such; but you are not to make an idol of straw. You should regard all the servants of God as equal; you are to view them in reference to their Master--in reference to their commission--in reference to their place and office--as all respectable, and equally regarded by God.
3. The third class we call ecclesiastical. Here we might refer to the terms of admission into the Church of God, and to the table of the Lord. These ought not to be rigid and severe, but whatever they may be, they ought to be equally applied to the high and the low, to the rich and to the poor.
4. The last class we call denominational. All should belong to some Christian community; but you should never suppose that the party you have joined have all the truth, and that nothing is to be done without them. Let us never forbid others because they walk not with us. To conclude, let us learn then to judge of men regardless of adventitious circumstances. Let our inquiry be, What are they morally? what are they spiritually? Thus may we resemble the citizens of Zion, of whom it is said, in their view a vile person is contemned, while those who fear the Lord are honoured. (W. Jay.)
Respect of persons in religious matters
We may be guilty of this--
1. By making external things, not religion, the ground of our respect and affection. “Knowing after the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16) is to esteem any one out of secular and outward advantages. Says Tertullian: “We must not judge of faith by persons, but of persons by faith.”
2. When we do not carry out the measure and proportion of affection according to the measures and proportions of grace, and pitch our respects there where we find the ground of love most eminent (Psalms 16:3).
3. When we can easily make greatness a cover for baseness, and excuse sin by honour, whereas that is the aggravation; the advantage of greatness makes sin the more notable.
4. When we yield religious respects, give testimonies to men for advantage, and, under pretence of religion, servilely addict ourselves to men for base Jude 1:16).
5. When Church administrations are not carried on with an indifferent and even hand to rich and poor, either by way of exhortation or censure.
6. When we despise the truths of God because of the persons that bring them to us. Matheo Langi, Archbishop of Saltzburg, told every one that the reformation of the mass was needful, the liberty of meats convenient, and to be disburthened of so many commands of men just; but that a poor monk (meaning Luther) should reform all was not to be endured. So in Christ’s time the question was common, “Do any of the rulers believe in Him?” Thus you see we are apt to despise excellent things, because of the despicableness of the instrument. The same words have a different acceptation, because of the different esteem and value of the persons engaged in them. Erasmus observed that what was accounted orthodox in the fathers, was condemned as heretical in Luther. (T. Manton.)
Respect of persons
I. The persons whom St. James admonished here are THE BRETHREN to whom he giveth this attribute, which thing he doth very conveniently, inasmuch as in the discourse he is to admonish them of a duty of love, whereunto they ought to be the more prompt. The saints of God may well here be called brethren--
1. Because they have one spiritual and Heavenly Father, which is God, who is Father of us all, of whom are all things, and we in Him.
2. As because we have one spiritual Father we are brethren, so because we have one spiritual mother, we are brethren also. Now, as God is our spiritual Father, so is the Church our mystical mother, which hath brought us forth by a new birth, in whose sweet bosom we are nursed, into whose happy lap we are gathered, and bringeth us up under the most wholesome discipline of Jesus Christ, that we might be holy and blameless before Him through love.
3. Neither that only, but they are also begotten with one seed of their new birth and regeneration, which is the immortal seed of the Word.
4. If Christ vouchsafe us the name of brethren, and so we have Him as a common brother, then are we therefore also brethren by right among ourselves.
5. Finally, inasmuch as the saints divide the same inheritance among them, therefore are they called brethren; for brethren they are as Aristotle writeth, among whom the same inheritance is divided; yea, they which divide the same lands, living, patrimony, possession. The sons and saints of God communicate the same inheritance, divide the same kingdom of their Heavenly Father among them, participate the same good things which are above as co-heirs and joint-heirs of the heavenly patrimony, eternal life; therefore are they brethren.
II. The saints whom He calleth brethren, being the persons whom He admonisheth, in the next place cometh THE THING ITSELF, WHEREOF THEY ARE ADMONISHED to be considered that they have not the faith of Christ in respect of persons, wherewith true love, true charity, true religion, cannot stand or consist.
1. What is here meant by faith? Christian religion, the true service of Christ, the profession of the gospel, whereunto respect of persons is contrary, for if pure religion and undefiled before God be this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their adversities, and to regard the poor in their miseries, as before was taught us, then contrary hereunto is the contempt of the poor and preferring of the rich, which respect of persons is here condemned.
2. Christ is called the glorious Lord in this place, sometimes to like purpose is He called the Lord of glory (Psalms 24:7; Acts 7:2; 1 Corinthians 2:8). Christ may be called the Lord of glory--
(1) Because He is full of majesty, power, and glory, at the right hand of God.
(2) Christ is the Lord of glory because howsoever He first came in baseness and great humility, yet at His second appearing and coming He shall come in unspeakable glory.
(3) Christ is a glorious Lord because He bringeth and advanceth
His servants to immortal glory after His appearing in glory.
3. To have this faith of Christ our glorious Lord in respect of persons is to esteem the faith, religion, and profession of Christ by the outward appearance of men.
1. What is respect of persons? It is to respect anything besides the matter and cause itself, which only ought of us to be considered, whereby we decline from the matter to the man, from the thing to the person, and swerve from righteous judgment and true estimation of things.
2. Which sin, as pernicious and perilous in all causes, in all persons, at all times, and in all places, the sacred Scripture condemneth as a thing most repugnant to equity and charity. This evil cannot stand with Christian profession, the gospel teacheth that with God is no respect of persons, but that they all which fear God and work righteousness are accepted through the joyful tidings of salvation by Jesus Christ, in whom there is neither male nor female, bond nor free, neither rich nor poor, but they are all alike unto Him. (R. Turnbull.)
Wrong social distinctions
God Himself has made a distinction among men. That one should be rich and have abundance, and another should be poor and needy, is an arrangement of the Almighty, just as it is His arrangement and appointment, that all the ears of corn should not contain the same number of grains, and that all flowers should not be arrayed in the same gay colours, and that all the stars should not shine with the same brilliancy, but one star differ from another star in glory. But we make an evil distinction when we carry that which is of value only in earthly relations, in civil and social intercourse, into a sphere where, according to the appointment of God, poverty and riches are both of the same value, or rather of no value. For let us only ask ourselves for what purpose do we assemble in the house of God on appointed days? Is it not that we may feel the importance, and attend to the concerns of another life, far different from our earthly and every-day one? Is it not that we may know and enjoy the life eternal, that we may taste the powers of the invisible world? But all the pre-eminence which riches can procure for us is as transitory as riches themselves; the rich man fades away amidst all his affluence, as completely as the poor man perishes in his state of destitution. How iniquitous is it, then, to distinguish the rich as such, and to slight the poor as such, in a place where all are on the same level before God, where all assemble with an equal need of heavenly grace and gifts, and all have a right to rejoice in the same riches, even the fulness of the Divine love in Christ. (B. Jacobi.)
Respect of persons in church
It was my custom occasionally to attend St. Mary’s, and the sermons of the vicar always delighted me. But as the church was always very full, I was often obliged, though not strong in health, to stand during the whole service. Now, having observed that the persons who were best dressed were always the first to be conducted to seats, although not seat-holders, I yielded to the temptation of resorting to an artifice. I happened to possess a large and beautiful ring. One Sunday morning I put it on and repaired to church as usual. I stood for a minute or two with other people of divers classes near the door. Then, taking off my glove, I raised my hand with apparent carelessness to my ear, and immediately I was led to a comfortable seat. (Autobiography of Bp. Gobat.)
Without respect of persons
Until the last few years of his life Friend Hopper usually walked to and from his office twice a day. When the weather was very unpleasant he availed himself of the Haarlem cars. Upon one of these occasions it chanced that the long, ponderous vehicle was nearly empty. They had not proceeded far when a very respectable looking young woman beckoned for the car to stop. It did so; but when she set her foot on the step the conductor somewhat rudely pushed her back, and she turned away, evidently much mortified. Friend Hopper started up, and inquired, “Why didst thou push that woman away?” “She’s coloured,” was the laconic reply. “Art thou instructed by the managers of the railroad to proceed in this manner on such occasions?” inquired Friend Hopper. The man answered, “Yes.” “Then let me get out,” rejoined the genuine republican; “it disturbs my cow, science to ride in a public conveyance where any decently behaved person is refused admittance.” And though it was raining very fast, and his horse was a mile off, the old veteran of seventy-five years marched through mud and wet at a pace somewhat brisker than his usual energetic step; for indignation warmed his honest and kindly heart and set the blood in motion.
No respect of persons
On one occasion Peter Cartwright, the Backwoods’ Methodist preacher, was occupying the pulpit of a time-serving fashionable preacher at Nashville. He was in the middle of his sermon, when Andrew Jackson (“Old Hickory”) entered the building and walked up the main aisle. The presence of so great a man, the President of the United States, overpowered the clergyman in charge, and bending over to Peter Cartwright, he said in an audible whisper, “General Jackson has come in; General Jackson has come in.” “And who” thundered out Cartwright, “is General Jackson? If he doesn’t get his soul converted, God will damn him as quick as He would a Gainea negro!” It may well be supposed that the congregation was startled, and the next day the Nashville pastor went, with abject apologies, to the General, regretting the indignity that had been offered him. But the independence of the bold Backwoods’ apostle, so far from giving offence to “Old Hickory,” won his lasting regard, and the Rev. Peter was afterwards his honoured guest at the Hermitage. (Tinling’s Illustrations.)
The Jewish Christians at Jerusalem still frequented the temple, and those among the dispersion the synagogues; hence there is no cause for surprise in finding Christians mixed with unconverted Jews at this period in a common place of worship. The people sat in the synagogue according to their social rank or trade, and St. James fastens on this exhibition of pride on the part of the higher classes as a ground of convincing them of sin and of violation of the law which enjoined “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” A further argument that the Jewish synagogue is spoken of is that we learn from the context that strangers came in who were provided with seats that happened to be vacant. This would occur constantly in the synagogue, but in the upper chamber of the Christians it would be most unlikely that persons of wealth and eminence, as here described, should thus freely enter the congregation of the despised Nazarenes. A graphic delineation follows of the casual worshippers, for casual they must have been, as the regular comers Would have their seats allotted them. The one is wealthy and proud, the other poor and lowly. The force of this contrast will appear the more when we remember that the Christian portion of the Jewish community was chiefly gathered out of the lower ranks in the social scale. The rich man is described as having a gold ring or rings on his fingers, for it was a common custom to wear a number of these ornaments; he is clad also in handsome attire, literally” shining,” most likely with reference to the gloss of the texture of his raiment; and the poor man is represented as clothed in shabby attire, most probably with reference to the soil contracted in labour: (F. T. Bassett, M. A.)
A man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel
Degrees of honour in the Church
This place taketh not away degrees of honour from men, neither denieth it honour or worship to be given to men of honour or worship, albeit wicked and unworthy. St. James only teacheth not to judge of the faith and religion of Christ in men by their outward appearance, neither in the public meetings of Christians to reverence or prefer the rich men of the world, being wicked, with the disdaining of the poor which are religious, as the words themselves import when to the rich man we say, “Sit here in a good and worshipful place,” and to the poor, “Sit there,” or “Sit under my footstool,” which argueth contempt of the poor brethren; for if in spectacles and theatrical sights, in election of officers, in parliaments, in assizes and sessions, and in all well-ordered assemblies of men, there is difference of men and comeliness of persons observed, how much more in ecclesiastical meetings ought there an order to be observed whereof the primitive Church was careful, appointing their place for the ministers, theirs for the laity, theirs for them which were to be catechised, theirs for them which were to do penance and to make open acknowledgment of their offences. The same was ratified by councils, confirmed by fathers; and for the business of the churches or the reproving of men’s vices and correcting of them which fell both Tertullian and St. Ambrose writeth that there were several places for certain persons assigned. So, then, all difference and degrees of men are not here forbidden, but in Christian assemblies to respect the rich, with the contempt and disdain of the poor, is condemned. (R. Turnbull.)
Showing off dress in church
Perhaps, in the modern church worship, the greatest discouragement which the poor feel is in the dress which their rich brethren and sisters are accustomed to exhibit in the house of God. It is a shame to their poor apparel. It ought to be a shame to any well-to-do Christian woman when she wears her gayest and newest costly clothing to public worship, and appears with diamonds and other very valuable and conspicuous ornaments before the altar of her God. Cannot the Christian women of this age at length have the courage to refuse to continue to be Sunday advertisements of modistes and milliners? A lady in New York, whose pew was on one of the wall sides of the church, and who consequently had the congregation all on one side of her, suggested to her milliner that she put a certain bow on the “congregation side” of her bonnet! What a revelation was that! And was it solitary? Is not the preparation of many a worshipper made “on the congregation side”? And is not the house of the Lord thus turned into a show-room, in which those who have no special dry-goods to exhibit are neither welcome nor at home? (C. F. Deems, D. D.)
A gold-ringed man
The custom was one of the fashions of the empire, and had spread from Rome to Judaea. So Juvenal, in a portrait which unites the two forms of ostentations luxury noted by St. James, describes one who, though born as an Egyptian slave, appears with Tyrian robes upon his shoulders and golden rings, light or heavy, according to the season (“Sat.” 1:28, 30). So in “Martial” (xi. 60) we read of one who wears six rings on every finger day and night, and even when he bathes. (Dean Pumptre.)
The poor to be treated equitably
The tutor of Cyrus instructed him, when in a controversy, where a great boy would have taken a large coat from a little boy because his own was too little for him and the other’s was too big, he adjudged the great coat to the great boy. His tutor answered, “Sir, if you were made a judge of decency or fitness, you had judged well in giving the biggest to the biggest; but when you were appointed judge, not whom the coat did fit, but whose it was, you should have considered the title and the possession, who did the violence, and who made it, or who bought it.” And so it must be in judgments between the rich and the poor: it is not to be considered what the poor man needs, but what is his own. (Jeremy Taylor, D. D.)
Bowing to an old coat
The rich man is like him who, walking in the market with the cast-off coat of a nobleman to which the tinsel star was still sewn, felt elated and proud--a great man truly, because all bowed and raised their hats. Reaching home, he strutted before the glass with a lord-like air, and caught sight of the star. “Aha!” cried he, blushing red with shame, “what a fool the world is to bow to an old coat!” (H. O.Mackey.)
Judges of evil thoughts
Our judgments of others
I. OURS IS A CRITICAL AGE, and we, most of us, have learned how to criticise. It has been raised to a science. We can distinguish the false from the true, the impostor from the honest man. We can put the motive to everything that is done. We can estimate character, we can measure the degrees of virtue and of vice; nay, so clever have we grown in this accomplishment, that we discover things that never existed, see unkindness where none was meant, deceit and hypocrisy in the honest and the true, selfishness in some act of generosity which we cannot otherwise account for.
II. JUDGE NOT.
1. Because we cannot judge aright. Even when there is no beam in our own eye to obscure our vision, and no want of charity to bias our judgment, we cannot truly judge of the motives which are at work in another. The French have a motto, that “To know everything is to forgive everything”; and if this is not literally true, at least it embodies a truth, which we are slow enough to admit, that we often judge by the outside fact and give no credit for the hidden motive. “Men who see into their neighbours,” says an acute observer of human nature, “are very apt to be contemptuous; but men who see through them find something lying behind every human soul which they cannot judge and dare not sneer at.”
2. It is the very worst policy possible. The man who judges harshly will be harshly judged. But he who has always a good word to say of another will find but few critics and many friends. I was much struck by a chance remark made to me by a friend not long ago. Speaking of a neighbour, he said: “He seems a good sort of man. I never heard him speak against any one; and that is the kind of man I like.”
3. If you are honest with yourself, you dare not judge. To judge, you must yourself be at least free from the sin which you profess to judge Matthew 7:5; John 8:7). It is God’s prerogative (Romans 14:4). What if the Master should judge us as we are so ready to judge our fellow men? What if God should take us at our word, and forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us? (A. L. Moore, M. A.)
Evil thoughts, if cherished, blight virtue, destroy purity, and undermine the stablest foundations of character. They are very much like rot in timber, like rust in iron. They eat into the man. And when the process has gone on for awhile, and there comes the stress of an outward temptation, down they go into a mass of ruins.
Hath not God chosen the poor?--
The rich and the poor
Let us not misunderstand St. James. He does not say or imply that the poor man is promised salvation on account of his poverty, or that his poverty is in any way meritorious. That is not the case, any more than that the wealth of the rich is a sin. But so far as God has declared any preference, it is for the poor rather than for the rich. The poor man has fewer temptations, and he is more likely to live according to God’s will, and to win the blessings that are in store for those who love Him. His dependence upon God for the means of life is perpetually brought home to him, and he is spared the peril of trusting in riches, which is so terrible a snare to the wealthy. He has greater opportunities of the virtues which make man Christlike, and fewer occasions of falling into those sins which separate him most fatally from Christ. But opportunities are not virtues, and poverty is not salvation, Nevertheless, to a Christian a poor man is an object of reverence rather than of contempt. But the error of the worldly Christians whom St. James is here rebuking does not end with dishonouring the poor whom God has honoured; they also pay special respect to the rich. Have the rich, as a class, shown that they deserve anything of the kind? Very much the reverse, as experience is constantly proving. “Do not the rich oppress you?” &c. St. James is thinking of the rich Sadducees, who at this period (A.D. 35-65) were among the worst oppressors of the poorer Jews, and of course were specially bitter against those who had become adherents of “the Way,” and who seemed to them to be renegades from the faith of their forefathers. It was precisely to this kind of oppression that St. Paul devoted himself with fanatical zeal previous to his conversion (Acts 9:1-44.9.2; 1 Timothy 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Philippians 3:6). “The judgment-seats” before which these wealthy Jews drag their poorer brethren may be either heathen or Jewish courts (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 6:4)
, but are probably the Jewish courts frequently held in the synagogues. The Roman Government allowed the Jews very considerable powers of jurisdiction over their own people, not only in purely ecclesiastical matters, but in civil matters as well. The Mosaic law penetrated into almost all the relations of life, and where it was concerned it was intolerable to a Jew to be tried by heathen law. Consequently the Romans found that their control over the Jews was more secure and less provocative of rebellion when the Jews were permitted to retain a large measure of self-government. These were the times when women bedight the priesthood for their husbands from Herod Agrippa II., and went to see them officiate, over carpets spread from their own door to the temple; when wealthy priests were too fastidious to kill the victims for sacrifice without first putting on silk gloves; when their kitchens were furnished with every appliance for luxurious living, and their tables with every delicacy; and when, supported by the Romans, to whom they truckled, they made war upon the poor priests, who were supported by the people. Like Hophni and Phinehas, they sent out their servants to collect what they claimed as offerings, and if payment was refused the servants took what they claimed by force. Facts like these help us to understand the strong language used here by St. James, and the still sterner words at the beginning of the fifth chapter. In such a state of society the mere possession of wealth certainly established no claims upon the reverence of a Christian congregation; and the fawning upon rich people, degrading and unchristian at all times, would seem to St. James to be specially perilous and distressing then. “Do not they blaspheme the honourable name by which ye are called?” The last clause literally means “which was called upon you”; and we need not doubt that the reference is to the name of Christ, which was invoked upon them at their baptism. That the blasphemers are not Christians is shown by the clause “which was called upon you.” Had Christians been intended, St. James would have written, “Do not they blaspheme the honourable name which was called upon them?” That they blasphemed the name in which they were baptized would have been such an aggravation of their offence that he would not have failed to indicate it. These blasphemers were, no doubt, Jews; and St. James has in his mind the anathemas against Jesus Christ which were frequent utterances among the Jews, both in the synagogues and in conversation. His argument, therefore, amounts to this, that the practice of honouring the rich for their riches is (quite independently of any dishonour done to the poor) doubly reprehensible. It involves the meanness of flattering their own oppressors and the wickedness of reverencing those who blaspheme Christ. It is a servile surrender of their own rights, and base disloyalty to their Lord. But perhaps (the argument continues) some will defend this respect paid to the rich as being no disloyalty to Christ, but, on the contrary, simple fulfilment of the royal law, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Be it so, that the rich as a class are unworthy of respect and honour, yet nevertheless they are our neighbours, and no misconduct on their side can cancel the obligation on our side to treat them as we should wish to be treated ourselves. We ourselves like to be respected and honoured, and therefore we pay respect and honour to them. To those who argue thus the reply is easy. Certainly, if that is your motive, ye do well. But why do you love your neighbour as yourselves if he chances to be rich, and treat him like a dog if he chances to be poor? The law of loving one’s neighbour as one’s self is a “royal law,” as being sovereign over other laws, inasmuch as it is one of those two on which “hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40). Indeed, either of the two may be interpreted so as to cover the whole duty of man. Thus St. Paul says of this royal law, “The whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Galatians 5:14); and St. John teaches the same truth in a different way when he declares that he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen cannot love God whom he hath not seen (1 John 4:20). “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in-one point, he is become guilty of all.” The law is the expression of one and the same principle--love; and of one and the same will--the will of God. Therefore he who deliberately offends against any one of its enactments, however diligently he may keep all the rest, is guilty of offending against the whole. His guiding principle is not love, but selfishness--not God’s will, but his own. He keeps nine-tenths of the law because he likes to do so, and he breaks one-tenth because he likes to do so. (A. Plummer, D. D.)
The poor chosen by God
1. God often chooses the poor of this world. The lion and the eagle are passed by, and the lamb and the dove chosen for sacrifice (Matthew 11:25). This God does--
(1) Partly to show the glory of His power in preserving them, and truth amongst them, that were not upheld by worldly props.
(2) Partly to show the riches of His goodness.
(3) Partly to discover His wisdom by making up their outward defects by this inward glory.
(4) Partly that the members may be conformed to the Head, the saints to Christ, in meanness and suffering.
(5) Partly because poverty is a means to keep them upright: riches are a great snare.
2. There are poor in this world, and poor in the world to come. Though here you swim and wallow in a sea of pleasures, yet there you may want a drop to cool your tongue.
3. The poor of this world may be spiritually rich (2 Corinthians 6:10).
4. Faith makes us truly rich; it is the open hand of the soul, to receive all the bounteous supplies of God. If we be empty and poor, it is not because God’s hand is straitened, but ours is not opened.
5. The Lord loves only the godly poor (Matthew 5:3).
6. All God’s people are heirs (Romans 8:17).
7. The faithful are heirs to a kingdom (Revelation 1:6).
8. Heaven is a kingdom engaged by promise. It is not only good to tempt your desires, but sure to support your hopes.
9. The promise of the kingdom is made to those that love God. Love is the effect of faith, and the ground of all duty, and so the best discovery of a spiritual estate. (T. Manton.)
To the poor
I. THE IMPORT OF THE STATEMENT.
1. Not that only the poor are chosen.
2. Not that all the poor are chosen.
3. More of the poor are chosen than of the rich.
II. THE REASONS OF THE FACT.
1. It illustrates the sovereignty of God.
2. It furnishes a powerful argument for the truth of Christianity.
3. It occasions a magnificent display of the character and genius of the gospel.
4. It shows the estimate that is formed by God of the value of wealth.
5. It teaches Christians to raise their thoughts to heaven. (G. Brooks.)
Poverty gives opportunity for manifold virtues
A wise man is placed in the variety of chances, like the nave or centre of a wheel in the midst of all the circumvolutions and changes of posture, without violence or change, save that it turns gently in compliance with its changed parts, and is indifferent which part is up, and which is down; for there is some virtue or other to be exercised whatever happens, either patience or thanksgiving, love or fear, moderation or humility, charity or contentedness, and they are every one of them equally in order to his great end and immortal felicity; and beauty is not made by white or red, by black eyes, and a round face, by a straight body and a smooth skin; but by a proportion to the fancy. No rules can make amiability, our minds and apprehensions make that; and so is our felicity: and we may be reconciled to poverty and a low fortune, if we suffer contentedness and the grace of God to make the proportion. For no man is poor that doth not think himself so. But if in a full fortune with impatience he desires more, he proclaims his wants and his beggarly condition. (Jeremy Taylor, D. D.)
Penury not the deepest poverty
Life has deeper poverties than penury, because it has treasures costlier than gold. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
Poor yet good
Better go to heaven in rags, than to hell in embroidery. Many whom the world regards as dirt, the Lord esteems as jewels. Judge a Christian not by his coat, but by his character. Poor yet rich
A poor seal may be a rich Christian, and a rich man may have a poor soul. (J. Trapp.)
Grateful for poverty
In the last will and testament of Martin Luther occurs the following remarkable passage
“Lord God, I thank Thee that Thou hast been pleased to make me a poor and indigent man upon earth. I have neither house, nor land, nor money to leave behind me. Thou hast given me wife and children, whom I now restore to Thee. Lord, nourish, teach, and preserve them, as Thou hast me.” (K. Arvine.)
Little happiness with rich men
Big bells are very apt to be poorly cast. I never heard of a bell which weighed a great many thousand pounds which, first or last, did not break. And what a sound a big bell that is broken gives! If you take these overgrown rich men and ring them, how little happiness you find in them! (H. W. Beecher.)
Virtue the way to honour
At Athens there were two temples, a temple of virtue and a temple of honour; and there was no going into the temple of honour but through the temple of virtue; so the kingdoms of grace and glory are so joined together that we cannot go into the kingdom of glory but through the kingdom of grace. (T. Watson.)
Ye have despised the poor
Sins of the rich against the poor
I. The first evil for which the profane rich men are to be held as execrable is their TYRANNY; they oppress the poor by tyranny. Men are oppressed by tyranny divers ways.
1. When they are imprisoned, afflicted, persecuted by the rich and mighty men of the world.
2. When in the trades of this life they deal hardly, deceitfully.
3. When they wring them by usury, forfeitures, exactions, impositions, and all manner of extortion.
4. When they weary and waste the bodies of the poor with toilsome labour unrewarded.
II. Another and second evil for which they ought to be held accursed is their CRUELTY AND UNMERCIFULNESS; for they draw the poor before judgment seats for their profession and religion.
III. The third sin in the rich men of the world wherefore they are to be held accursed IS THEIR BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE RELIGION OF CHRIST, they blaspheme the worthy name whereby ye are named.
1. When they deride, jest, scorn, and scoff at Christian religion, speaking maliciously and disdainfully against Christ and His profession.
2. As by their speech, so by their lives, men blaspheme and dishonour the gospel when they which profess religion walk not, neither live thereafter, by which means the gospel is slandered, dishonoured, and blasphemed. (R. Turnbull.)
The sin of neglecting the poor
I. GOD HAS NOT OVERLOOKED THE POOR.
1. His sovereignty has been exercised in their favour.
(1) Our Lord, when He undertook man’s nature, was born amongst the poor, brought up in poverty, and made acquainted with all its sufferings and privations.
(2) During the personal ministry of our Lord, while the chief priests rejected Him and members of the higher classes among the Jews treated Him with scorn, “the common people heard Him gladly.”
(3) See 1 Corinthians 1:26-46.1.28.
2. The poor are interested in God’s promises.
3. They are interested in His kingdom (Luke 12:32). As the result of all this mercy and grace, many amongst the poor are being prepared for their future inheritance. There are amongst them some who are distinguished by their faith and by their love, as well as by their position and hopes.
II. THE INFLUENCE WHICH THIS TRUTH OUGHT TO HAVE UPON OUR CONDUCT, as those who wish to serve the Lord Christ.
1. The poor should have the gospel preached unto them.
2. Civility and kindness should be shown towards them.
3. Active benevolence. (W. Cadman, M. A.)
Men who despise the poor
These men harden themselves in their sternness; they stand fixed in their own determination, even as on a rock. It is useless for me to place before such men that tender object of sympathy, a helpless infant, without one rag to shelter it from the blast; they will use their ample cloak to hide their faces from the very misery which that cloak would cover. It is needless to tell them that the fire in the widow’s cottage never burns when they can make themselves joyful and happy in their cold stern-heartedness. For such men I can but feel unmitigated and unbounded sorrow. How truly pitiable is he who at the end of a life, perhaps of fourscore years, falls asleep without being able to call to mind one act of benevolence (E. West.)
Despising the poor
He that’s down, down with him. (Anon.)
Taking undue advantage of poverty
Men go over the hedge where it is lowest. (J. Trapp.)
A threefold sin
This is a sin against race, grace, and place. (J. Trapp.)
God honouring, men despising
The pronoun is emphatic, “God chose the poor, ye put them to shame.” (Dean Plumptre.)
Dishonouring whom God honours
With Haman--like impiety ye would disgrace “the man whom the King delights to honour.” (A. Plummer, D. D.)
Professors, yet persecutors
There seems, at first, a want of logical coherence. The rich man first appears as gaining undue pre-eminence in the assembly of Christians, and then as one of a class of persecutors and blasphemers. This, however, is just the point on which St. James lays stress. Men honoured the rich Christian, not because he was a Christian, but because he was rich, i.e., because he was connected with a class, which, as such, had shown itself bitterly hostile to them. (Dean Plumptre.)
A rogue in the heart
Many a man has a paternoster round his neck and a rogue in his heart. (M. Luther.)
Tyranny of money
Money is now exactly what mountain promontories over public roads were in old times. The barons fought for them fairly; the strongest and cunningest got them, then fortified them and made every one who passed below pay toll. Well, capital now is exactly what crags were then. Men fight fairly (we will at least grant so much, though it is more than we ought) for their money; but once having got it, the fortified millionaire can make everybody who passes below pay toll to his million, and build another tower of his money castle. And I can tell you the poor vagrants by the roadside suffer now quite as much from the bag-baron as ever they did from the crag-baron. Bags and crags have just the same result on rags. (J. Ruskin.)
“Oppress you”; yea, devour you, as the greater fish do the lesser. (J. Trapp.)
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself
The good old word “neighbour” means one who, because he lives in a near dwelling or home, is specially related to us; and upon the relation which it signifies there have been builded more than one of the institutions of Anglo-Saxon civil society.
From its earliest times among that people the bond between neighbours was so definite and intimate, that in the eye of the law one neighbour was held to be responsible for the security and well-being of another. If a man was murdered, the neighbours were in the first instance accounted responsible; and it was only when they had purged themselves by finding and convicting the real murderer, that they were held to be acquitted. So also in case of dispute or disagreement between any two neighbours, twelve or more of the other neighbours were summoned as an assize to determine the matter. There is no doubt that it was upon this ancient custom that our great institution of trial by jury was founded; and it is upon the same custom, the same ancient and sacred bond of neighbourhood, that what may be called the very corner-stone of our public liberty rests--that is, the right and the duty of local self-government in all matters not expressly delegated to the national power. Now, if we go back to first principles, we find that the enactment on which all human society rests is, the royal law given by God Himself and re-enacted by His Son. You will observe that love to one’s neighbour is likened to love to God. Let us try, then, to get at the principle on which love to God must rest, and this will be the principle of love to our neighbour. Why, then, should we love God with heart, mind, soul, strength? It is because in God man finds the ideals which are the prototypes of all that is noble in himself, and which therefore he must love if he would be true to his own better nature and higher destiny. And the obligation of man to love his neighbour as himself lies in the fact that it is in his neighbour that man gets his clearest revelation of God--more clear than any revelation in words or works. It is in the soul of man when looked at with the eyes of neighbourliness that man gets his best vision of the majesty and beauty of God. Now in the light of these considerations, think first of the dignity and discipline that belong to society. If we take society now as we know it, the social intercourse of Christian men and women under well-known rules of politeness and good manners, we find that it has a dignity of its own that entitles it to be considered one of the loftiest results of Christian civilisation. It was not till comparatively recent times that this great commonwealth of men and women was organised in the civilised world; and even now it is only among the English-speaking peoples and their congeners that it has attained a free development. This great commonwealth has its own gentle and gracious laws; its silent tribunals which noiselessly but unerringly enforce them; its dignities, its honours, its joys, its labours, its duties, its delight’s, the movements of which constitute the characteristic economy of modern civilised life. Now, the discipline of it will be apparent, when it is considered that the one principle which regulates it throughout is self-sacrifice. It is a great truth that the principle of the Cross underlies all good manners. Self-denial, self-control, self-sacrifice, the very essence of Christianity, are actually put into practice in the behaviour of good society. Men must restrain their baser impulses and instincts. Selfishness, if it exist at all, must at least be dissembled or concealed. Self-assertion must be abandoned. No man can even seem to be a gentleman who does not put into practice those principles of the Cross of Christ which the gospel commends to us; and no man can really be a gentleman unless be have those principles in his heart. The discipline of polite society, therefore, is of much importance in the culture of the Christian life, since it is the actual putting into practice of its principles, which, like all principles, cannot be fully appropriated until we use them. Little need be said of the educational influence of society. To see Christian men and women at their best; to turn toward them the best, side of our nature; to abjure pride; to banish self-seeking and selfishness; to follow, if only for an hour, lofty ideals; to enjoy the bright flashes of wit, the sustained delight of high converse; to think not of self but of others, and to lose one’s self in gracious ministry to others--this of itself ought to be aa educating, ennobling employment, which would train men for ideal pursuits, both here and hereafter. And this brings me to my next topic--the dangers which beset society. First, there is selfishness--the selfishness which is always seeking its own good, its own advancement, its own advantage, in, through, or by means of society. This it is which so often makes society a mere vulgar competition, hospitality a mere sham and bargain, like the publicans giving merely to receive as much again. Akin to this danger, and no less base, is the frivolous or calculating worldliness which makes society a mere means of vulgar and pretentious display--a display which excludes the poor, which alienates classes, which works ruin to many a household, and which, like a dry-rot, soon makes the society where it prevails a mere sham. The last danger I shall mention is unreality.
In society it is so easy to be unreal; to pretend to feel more than one does feel; to seem glad when one is not glad, and sorry when one is not sorry; to say smooth and false things, because smooth and false things are so easy to be said. What is the remedy? A return to the great first principle on which society is founded--love to one’s neighbour because he is a neighbour, and because he is a man. (Bp. S. S. Harris.)
The royal law
1. The law which is here called royal is the law of love and righteousness, prescribing what duty to every one pertaineth, and it containeth that part of the law which in the second table is delivered, teaching us to love without contemning, to prefer one without disdain of another, to regard the rich without neglect of the poor brethren.
2. This law of love is therefore called the royal law--
(1) Because it is from a king, not mortal but immortal: even the
King of kings and Lord of lords, even from God.
3. This law, furthermore, is called royal because it is like the king’s highway. So the law of God, which is the law of love, is open, plain, without turnings, of all men to be done.
4. The law of love being this royal law, and for these causes so called, it enjoineth men to love their neighbours as themselves.
(1) That God’s law requireth love, who readeth the Scriptures and seeth not?
(2) The persons whom we must love are our neighbours, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
(3) The manner how we must love is, as ourselves. And every man unfeignedly, fervently, continually loveth himself, so must we also love our neighbours. (R. Turnbull.)
Love to the neighbour
The word “neighbour” in this royal law had, through the lapse of ages, acquired a narrow meaning, mainly because men’s thoughts and sympathies were less comprehensive than the Divine purpose. But Christ gave new applications to it, and a more expansive spiritual interpretation. The neighbour with Him was no longer confined to the same tribe, or to the dwellers in the same valley or nation, but became co-extensive with human suffering and misfortune throughout the vast family of mankind. “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” It is easy for most persons to love themselves, and to accept what appears to be for their own advantage. It is quite right, too, for a man to love himself. But his love to himself is not to be supreme and all-absorbing. He has to love other persons. The neighbour, you will observe, is put on the same level as self. Look at the question in this way. Suppose you loved others as well as you love yourself. That might be an agreeable thing to them to possess the confidence of your love; and suppose you in return were loved by them as much as they loved themselves, that ought to be a source of comfort to you. Put in this light the royal law does not seem a hard one, does it? And if it operated universally in society, and through all circles, the effect would be very beneficent and delightful, would it not? “Yea, doubtless,” say you, “but that is not where the shoe pinches. It is when we have to love others, or the neighbour who does not love us, where the gist of the difficulty lies.” Men ask, “Am I to love a man who does not love me, nay, who may be utterly indifferent to me or even hate me?” In a question of this nature no arguments we might urge would dislodge the man of carnal mind from his stronghold of indifference. But to a man who accepts the teaching of Christ we must affirm His Divine testimony (Matthew 5:44-40.5.48). This interpretation of the royal law by the Master Himself settles at once, for those who acknowledge His authority, the degree and manner in which we are to love our neighbours, whether friends or enemies. Our love to our neighbour is to exhibit the same qualities, sincerity, constancy, activity, as the love which we cherish for ourselves. Attempts have been made to exclude the element of degree from the meaning of the words “as thyself,” on the ground that, from the constitution of human nature, obedience to such a command is impossible. But it would need much weightier reasons to prove that this thought of degree was not intended in the terms of the royal law. What is it in our neighbour we have to love as ourselves? And this suggests another question--What is it in “thyself” that thou hast to love? In what sense and to what extent is a man to love himself? Many persons love to pamper themselves, to indulge themselves, to amuse themselves; but these are as far from loving themselves truly, as the night from the day. For a man to love himself, as the Scriptures teach, means that he loves the best that is in him. I cannot love myself as I ought unless I keep my body, with all its powers and passions, under; unless I keep conscience and Christ enthroned in my heart. All that is false, cruel, deceptive, oppressive, slanderous, and dishonourable, I must repudiate, if I would love myself as the royal law teaches. We are not required by this royal law to love the sinful, the offensive, the evil characteristics and dispositions in our neighbour, any more than we are required to love these things in ourselves. But I am to love my neighbour in regard to things affecting his moral and spiritual well-being, and concerning his character and destiny for eternity. I am to help my neighbour to attain these higher, and holier, and better ends of his being, as certainly as I desire to help myself in the acquisition of these aims. Now briefly glance at the similarity of manner which love to self and love to the neighbour should exhibit. I ought to love myself with a sincere, active, and constant love. In like manner I am to display these same qualities in the love of my neighbour. Observe the wisdom and beauty of this saying, and how it is employed as a guide to a higher moral life. Self-love is ever present with us; inordinate self-love is the cause of most of the excesses and sins of our life. Christ takes hold of this very self-love and makes it the occasion and means of rising into a juster love of others. He appeals to the solicitude that we have regarding our own health, business reputation, and the desire to avoid self-injury, to cherish similar feelings toward others. The same motives that influence us in these things with respect to ourselves are to operate on behalf of our neighbour. If we are eagerly solicitous for our own spiritual welfare--our growth in peace, holiness, and righteousness of living, this, then, is to be the guide as to the manner and extent of our love for the spiritual good of our fellow-men. Love them in these ways as thou lovest thyself. (D. Jackson.)
Love of neighbour
Every man, so far as he is a man at all, is to be loved. But you will say, “That rule, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,’ is in any case an impractical and an impossible rule.” It is true that” as thyself” does not define the degree, it indicates the manner. Nor does it, of course, exclude differences. “Blood is thicker than water.” We must love best our nearest and dearest, our brethren and companions, our fellow countrymen, the good, the worthy, the large-hearted, the household of faith. Still even with these limitations to minds tainted by selfishness and vulgarised by custom, the commandment still appears doubtless an Utopian rule. God’s saints have felt it to be the most natural thing in the world. “I could have wished myself to be anathema from Christ,” says St. Paul, “on behalf of my brethren.” Smaller natures have been quite shocked by the expression, yet Moses had cried long before: “Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.” Danton in the French revolution was no Christian, yet even Danton could exclaim: “Be my name branded if only France be freed”; and the mission preacher who revived religious life in England exclaimed, “Let George Whitefield perish if God be glorified.” Surely even we must often enough have had the feeling that we care more for those whom we love than for ourselves. Surely for our children we must have prayed with Enoch Arden, “Save them from this, whatever comes to me.” In truth this care for others more than ourselves is the one distinguishing mark which separates the ignoble from the noble life. What is it which makes the life of frivolous, godless women, and debauched sottish men so inherently contemptible? It is their selfishness: they have shifted the centre of gravity from mankind to their own paltry greedy egotism; to whom applies the stern question of Carlyle, “Art thou a vulture, then, and only carest to get for thyself so much carrion?” Love to our neighbour has been the illumination of the world: it has kindled the scholar’s lamp, and nerved the reformer’s courage, and supported the statesman’s strength, and enabled the truth-seeker to live on in the oppression of a perpetual sitting amidst corrupt Churches and an evil world. It is love to our neighbour which has over and over again purged the slum and built the orphanage and gathered little children into schools; it has bad compassion on the poor, it has given bread to the hungry, and covered the naked with a garment; it has held forth the Bible to the nations, it has launched the lifeboat, it has taken the prodigal by the right hand and opened the door of repentance to the harlot and the thief. It was love to our neighbour which burned like the fire of God upon the altar of their hearts, in a Carey, and a Livingstone, a Romilly, a Howard, a Clarkson; sent missionaries to the heathen, modified the ferocities of penal law, purified the prison, set free the slaves. It was love to our neighbour which, energising even an age of torpor and of mammon worship, sent Wesley to fan the flame amidst the dying embers of religion, and Gordon to toil among his ragged boys, and Coleridge Pattison to die by the poisoned arrows of savages, and Father Damien to waste away at loathly Molokai, a leper among the lepers. It is a dim reflection of the love of Him who lived and died to redeem a guilty world. It differentiates the worldly life and its low aims from the noble and Christian life as ready to do good even to them which despitefully use it and persecute it. Every true life comes nearest to the life of Christ by love to its neighbour, and this love which has next to nothing to do with any form of external religiosity is the essence and epitome of all pure religion; it is the end of the commandments; it is the fulfilling of the law. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Love the law of the kingdom
The doctrine which bases all the relations of employer and employed upon self-interest is a doctrine of the pit; it has been bringing hell to earth in large installments for a great many years. You can have hell in your factory, or you can have heaven there, just as you please. If it is hell that you want, build your business on the law of hell, which is--Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. Out of that will come fightings perennial and unrelenting. If it is heaven that you want, then build your business on the law of the kingdom of heaven, which is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” That will put you in the path of peace.
I am as good as you v. You are as good as I
James Russell Lowell touched a chord, with a master hand, when, some little time ago, he said: “The Republic has gone on far too long on the principle ‘I am as good as you,’ and she must now begin on the other principle, ‘You are as good as I.’” These two principles illustrate, most forcibly, the respective principles of superstition and religion, of selfishness and sacrifice. Going on the principle of superstition and selfishness, the old world sickened and died, slain by its own hand. “I am as good as you,” filled the earth with “demons and chimeras dire,” whose chief employment it was to prey upon their authors. Christianity struck the note of fraternity, and pride gave place to humility, when the apostles went forth to declare to all men, “You are as good as I.”
Love of our neighbour
No one loves a person whom he does not wish should be better. (St. Gregory.)
Love of our neighbour not to be limited by desert
If you fancy that your love of your neighbour is to go no further than desert, consider what your condition is like to be if God shall so deal with you; that is, according to your desert. (Bishop Wilson.)
The royal law
The law may be called “royal” or “kingly,” either--
1. In the sense in which Plato speaks (Minos 2:566), of a just law as kingly or sovereign, using the same adjective as St. James, or--
2. As coming from God or Christ as the true king, and forming part of the fundamental code of the kingdom. In a Greek writer the first would probably be the thought intended. In one like St. James, living in the thought of a Divine kingdom, and believing in Jesus as the King, the latter is more likely to have been prominent. (Dean Plumptre.)
The suffering of injustice
When Athens was governed by the thirty tyrants, Socrates the philosopher was summoned to the senate house, and ordered to go with some other persons they named, to seize one Leon, a man of rank and fortune, whom they determined to put out of the way, that they might enjoy his estate. This commission Socrates flatly refused, and, not satisfied therewith, added his reasons for such refusal: “I will never willingly assist an unjust act.” Chericles sharply replied, “Dost thou think, Socrates, to talk always in this high style, and not to suffer?” “Far from it,” added he; “I expect to suffer a thousand ills, but none so great as to do unjustly.” (K. Arvine.)
We may think that great workers must be so absorbed as to forget others. Not so with Turner. A painter had sent in a picture to the Academy. In opposition to the rest of the hanging committee, Turner insisted, “We must find a good place for this young man’s picture.” “Impossible I impossible! No room!” was the decision. Turner said no more, but quietly removed one of his own pictures and hung up the other in its place. On another occasion, when his picture of Cologne was hung between two portraits, their painter complained that Turner’s bright sky had thrown his pictures into the shade. At the private view, an acquaintance of Turner’s, who had seen the “Cologne” in all its splendour, led some friends to see the picture. He started back in amazement. The golden sky had become dim, and the glory was gone. He ran up to the artist,” Turner, Turner! what have you been doing?” “Oh,” whispered Turner, “poor Lawrence was so unhappy! It’s only lampblack, it will all wash off after the exhibition.” It was only a wash of lampblack over his sky; but in the doing of this deed his character was lit up with a glory all his own.
Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point
The necessity of universal obedience
THE BREACH OF ONE PRECEPT NECESSARILY IMPLIES, AND THEREFORE IS FAIRLY TO BE ADJUDGED, A BREACH OF THE WHOLE LAW.
1. By offence we are to understand a knowing and voluntary transgression of the law.
2. By offending in one point is meant an habitual neglect of one duty, founded on a disbelief of the necessity of our performing it: and not any single act of transgression.
3. The proposition, then, is this, that whoever knows the law, and yet denies his obedience to any one precept of it, is guilty of disobedience to the whole law. And the reason is because he subverts the authority of the whole.
4. To illustrate this farther, consider that the only principles that preserve men’s reverence of God, and engage their obedience to His laws, are either fear and apprehension of His justice in their punishment, or love and the expectation of those rewards He proposes to obedience. Now all the restraint men are under from these motives is by the violation of one law broken through; and the principle which influenced their obedience has lost its efficacy on them.
5. Consider, farther, that the right our Creator has to our obedience is of so high and transcendent a nature that it can suffer no competition; His commands must have the first and governing influence on all our actions. Whoever, therefore, in any one avowed instance of sin, gives any temporal motive or principle a direction over his actions, dethrones the Deity, while he denies the Divine law that sovereign authority it ought to have over him.
II. NEITHER CAN OUR OBSERVANCE OF OTHER PARTS OF OUR DUTY BE ANY ATONEMENT FOR OUR GUILT IN OFFENDING IN ONE POINT, OR ENTITLE US TO THE REWARDS OF OBEDIENCE. For it is not our performing any particular action, but our performing it in obedience to the Divine law, that renders it acceptable to God. Now whoever performs some duties required by the law, while he neglects others, cannot act from any conviction that he ought to obey, or from any regard to the authority of the legislator, which being the same in all, would equally influence his obedience to all; but the virtuous actions he performs are either--
1. Purely a compliance with natural appetite; and consequently are not to be looked on as instances of obedience to a Divine law.
2. Supposing him not to be insensible of an obedience due to God Almighty, and to act with some regard to it, yet since this regard is so small, that in some instances it is manifestly inferior to a temptation, were the same temptation applied to other parts of his duty, it would by the same regular influence engage him to transgress them too.
3. It may appear not only consistent with the pursuits he is engaged in, but the profit, the reputation, or the convenience of the virtue, may recommend it, from the same inducements of pleasure and advantage by which he has been determined in the choice of his favourite vices; and so he may obey the law in one instance, from the motives that prevail on him to break it in another. But this is not serving God, but our own lusts.
III. WHAT ARE THE PLEAS WHICH DELUDE SO GREAT A PART OF MANKIND, AND INDUCE THEE TO BELIEVE THAT GOD WILL BE SATISFIED WITH A PARTIAL OBEDIENCE.
1. It is urged that God Almighty is a wise and merciful Father, who knows the powers and weaknesses of our nature, and the number and difficulty of those temptations we are exposed to. And since an entire observance of the whole law is manifestly beyond our abilities, God cannot without the imputation of cruelty be supposed to require more than a partial obedience from us. But in answer to this we may observe, first, that since God has by positive precept required our obedience to every command of the law, it is a much fairer inference from His knowledge of our abilities, and His inseparable attributes of goodness and justice, to conclude that such a Being would not require impossibilities, and insult the weakness of His creatures with a delusive proposal of happiness, which He knew they could never attain. But to give a more direct answer to this plea, it must be observed that this objection proceeds upon a mistaken sense of the doctrine we assert; which is not that God requires a perfect unsinning obedience, free from particular acts of transgression: thus we acknowledge it impossible for us to obey any one law: but that every law of God is equally to be obeyed.
2. Examine whether any plea can be drawn from Scripture to excuse or to justify a partial obedience. Now it is not pretended that the Scriptures in express terms dispense with any one Divine law. (J. Rogers, D. D.)
Real obedience in all things
This is undoubtedly a “hard saying”--not one “hard to be understood,” but because it is very easy to be understood. It is very plain and simple; it tells us clearly that if any one should keep the whole law of God, except one point, he would just as much be an offender against the law, as if he had broken the whole. The saying is hard, only because it is contrary to our notions. We cannot bear that so much responsibility should attach to our single actions. We are wont naturally to measure ourselves by an easy, pliant rule, making large allowances for ourselves; looking on ourselves, as what we think we on the whole are: we shrink from looking into our actions, one by one, which might undeceive us. Against this loose, careless way, the stern peremptory voice of the text is directly opposed. It tells us that God looks upon us and our actions one by one; that we cannot be two sorts of selves, one a transgressor, the other a doer of the law; that He does not give His commandments to be dealt with in a trifling way; that He seeks at our hands a full unswerving obedience. Hard, however, as the saying may to any seem to be, the occasion upon which it was spoken makes it yet harder. For St. James is not speaking of what most would regard as being exclusively grievous sins, but of what many would think a slight instance of a slight sin. He is speaking only of an undone respect towards the rich in God’s house, and a want of kindly regard to the feelings of the poor. St. James goes on to explain, in reference to the ten commandments, the ground of this truth. “For He that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill,” &c. “If we love God,” our Blessed Lord says, we should “keep His commandments.” It matters not then thus far which commandment we break; all breaking of His commandments is a preference of our own will to His, of the creature to the Creator, of His gifts to Himself, of things earthly to heavenly. Over and above the offensiveness of any sin in itself, all sin has, in common, one offensiveness, in that it is a disregard of His authority, who forbade it. Free-will, of which men boast, is, in our corrupted nature, a perilous gift. And well may we shrink from it. Having been made members of His Son, and so entitled to have His life, through the life-giving Spirit, flow into us, and having been conformed to Him, well may we pray not to be left to our own choice, but that He by His Holy Spirit will master our spirit, direct, control, guide, impel, constrain it, that it should not be able to choose for itself, but choose or leave, as He guides it. This then is the task we have to learn through life, to prefer God and His will to everything besides Him, not to serve Him with a divided and half service. We have our choice given between the two. There can be no choice without preference. Whenever there is a choice to be made, if we choose the creature against the will of God, no matter how small it seem, we are rejecting the Creator. Nay in one way, its very smallness makes the act more grievous, in that, for a small matter, we go against the will of God. Consider, again, how God has in the good chastised, in the evil how He has punished single sins; doubtless, meaning in part to impress upon us the awfulness of single transgressions, of breaking the law in one point. One transgression of one man made the whole human race sinners, brought death into the world, and placed us all under God’s wrath. One act of filial disobedience brought a curse on the whole race of Ham. One contempt of his birthright caused Esau to forfeit it altogether. One act of disobedience took away the kingdom from the house of Saul. Or, to turn to God’s servants whom He chastised. One unadvised speech lost Moses the entrance into Canaan. One act of deceit made Jacob an outcast and a wanderer. For one act of disobedience was the prophet slain who had fearlessly borne faithful testimony against Jeroboam and all Israel in the very day of their rebellion. For one grievous sin did the sword never depart from the house of David, though, in all besides, “he did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord.” Such is the awful way in which Holy Scripture itself explains the text; such in God’s sight, is the character of single acts of sin, of which men think so lightly. Yet consider, also, how seldom sins are single! “& little leaven,” Scripture saith, “leaventh the whole lump”; a single sin will taint the whole man. Even the heathen acknowledged that virtues were bound together with a golden band, so that no one could have one virtue perfectly who had not all. Sins too are interwoven together in a sad chain, so that one sin opens the door for others. Look how sins apparently the most opposite are by a subtle band joined together; vanity, or the love of man’s praise, and lying which even man despises; extravagance and covetousness; or what seem to have nothing to do with each other, as St. Paul says, idolatry was the root of lust and all that frightful list of sins, to which, he tells us, human nature was once abandoned; or, our own experience shows, how sabbath-breakers go on to drunkenness and working ill to their neighbours; or proverbs tell us in a practical way that “idleness is the parent of all sins.” How often do we remark, “How excellent a person such an one would be, but for that one thing in them! “This one leprous spot of vanity, or anger, or ambition, infects all; this one seed of corruption cankers what was otherwise blossoming so fairly and with so much promise. The chain round one little limb keeps the whole man a prisoner. The failure to decide aright in one point mars all other service or puts a person altogether in a wrong course. Thus does conscience itself, thus does our own implanted sense of right bear witness to the text; and not less our daily judgment in the things of this life. We count him a madman who, though in his senses on all points but one, is on that one point insane. We count him a bad servant who, though on other points good, has one incurable fault to which he is continually yielding. We count him a disobedient son, who on one point ever disobeys. And are we then good servants, if we, in one thing, ever neglect the commands of our Gracious Master? Yea, a man’s own conscience, till it be seared, will bear witness in another way. The consciousness of one indulged sin will not allow him rest. Then also Satan, in a fearful way, bears witness to the truth. There is no more common temptation by which the accursed one would plunge man into more hopeless sin than this. He persuades them to commit the first sin by telling them it is slight; and then he perverts the apostle’s truth, and tells them its heinousness, and that they may as well go in sin, and breaking other commands of God, because breaking one is enough to condemn them. There is a common proverb by which men express that if they have gone any way in what is wrong, they may as well take their fill both of the enjoyment and of the sin. They feel themselves shut out from heaven by their one sin” they have no hope beyond the grave, and so they may as well have the miserable consolation of “the pleasures of sin for a season”; if therein they may forget themselves and their doom. Yet in one more way we may see that we must strive to obey in all things, or we do not obey at all. Our trials, for the most part, consist but in a few things. If we fail continually in one or two sorts of trials, it may be that we are failing just in what forms our probation, and in what we are to be judged by. What service or what trial is it, if a person fails not when he is not tempted? if the covetous be not a waster? if the slothful be not worldly, or the worldly not slothful? if the easy-natured be not soon angry, or the passionate be not malicious? Yet thus is it that people continually deceive themselves. Must we then indeed fulfil the whole law, break no one command, or shall we at the Day of Judgment be found guilty of all? Is there no hope except in unsinning obedience through the grace given unto us? God forbid! for so should none of us have any hope. The text would stir us up to increased diligence, to examine ourselves, “to look well if there be any way of wickedness in us,” and to break off what we find amiss, to dread lest even one accursed thing cleave unto us, to beware how we tamper with any one of God’s enemies. Ye with whom, as yet, no one sin is habitual, see that ye let not one sin creep over you; or if any one is entangled in any sin, see that then he continue not in it. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
The defectiveness of human righteousness
The great obstacle to the acceptance of the gospel message is the want of a deep and permanent conviction of the enormity of sin and of our actual transgression before God.
I. In the words before us THE HIGHEST AND BEST POSSIBLE SUPPOSITION IS MADE WITH REFERENCE TO HUMAN OBEDIENCE. It is supposed that the individual here presented before us has kept the whole law with but one solitary exception. Dress yourself out in your best plumes, put on your most courtly array; deck yourself in your most unspotted garments; suppose the best opinion to be true, that with any degree of self-examination you can entertain of your condition, yet surely you are guilty of one sin, you have broken one commandment--then thou art guilty of the whole, “thou art weighed in the balance,” and by thine own weights and measures thou art “found wanting.”
II. THE SLIGHTEST POSSIBLE FLAW SUPPOSED that could be supposed to exist. Now, can we make a stronger supposition in favour of human righteousness than that which he makes?--and can we refuse to admit a possible flaw to the extent he supposes it to exist, after the plain declaration of the Word of God?
III. From the strongest possible supposition of human righteousness, and from the slightest possible flaw that can be supposed to exist in that righteousness, THE MOST FEARFUL CONCLUSION IS DEDUCED AS TO ITS BEARING ON US in these words, “He that shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point is guilty of all.”
1. Because all the commandments of the law are inseparably connected.
2. This conclusion of the apostle rests on the unity of the commandments themselves, on the oneness of the principle on which they are founded. God reveals Himself as our Creator and Preserver, a Being to whelm we are under infinite obligations; in revealing Himself in this character, all He asks of us is love. From that one feeling, He deduces the various duties we owe to Him--they are all but so many proofs of the existence of the principle of love--and on the same ground of obligation to Him, He enforces the duties we owe to our fellow-men.
3. “He who offends in one point is guilty of all,” because the keeping of some commandments will not, by any means, atone for the violation of others.
4. The law, as law, cannot permit the slightest deviation, and here we see the folly of looking to the law for justification in the sight of God. (W. H. Cooper.)
Guilty of all
I. OFFER A FEW EXPLANATORY REMARKS.
1. By “the law” here is not meant! he ceremonial, but the moral law, or the law of ten commandments.
2. It is affirmed that the most perfect obedience to the law which could possibly be found amongst sinful and erring creatures would still fall short of its requirements.
3. The conclusion in the text is, that the least defect in our obedience contains in it a virtual violation of the whole law. As the least segment of a true circle is circular, so the smallest act of sin is in the sight of God exceeding sinful.
II. ESTABLISH THE LEADING SENTIMENT--that he who offends in one point is guilty of the whole law.
1. All the Divine commands make but one compact, one uniform rule of duty. As all the curtains of the tabernacle, joined together by taches and loops, made but one covering for the ark, and if any part was disjoined it became unfit for the purpose, so if one command be violated, the whole law is broken, and the compact is made void.
2. The will and authority of the Lawgiver is as much resisted and despised by transgressing any one command as by breaking the whole law.
3. That authority which is not sufficient to deter us from sin in any one particular instance would not be sufficient in any other, if suitable temptations offered.
4. The whole law is summed up in love, which is called the fulfilling of the law. Every action therefore that carries in it the want of love to God or our neighbour is a breach of the whole law; and this is the case with every sin that we commit.
5. The consequence of one sin unrepented of and unpardoned is the same as if we lived in the wilful and continued commission of all sin; it is followed with the curse.
1. We are hereby taught the extent, purity, and spirituality of the Divine law. It forbids, reproves, and punishes all sin; the first risings of it in the heart, as well as its breakings forth in the life, sinful imaginations as well as sinful actions.
2. The folly and danger of building any hope of salvation on the ground of our own obedience, or works of righteousness that we have done. This can only arise from pride of heart, or the most culpable ignorance; ignorance both of the law and of the gospel, of God and ourselves.
3. The necessity there is for the best of men to humble themselves before God under a sense of their innumerable defects, and to be ever watchful against the commission of sin. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Every command to be observed
1. It showeth how tender we should be of every command: wilful violation amounteth to a total neglect. The least dust offendeth the eye; and so the law is a tender thing, and soon wronged.
2. Partial obedience is an argument of insincerity.
3. It is a vain deceit to excuse defects of one duty by care of another.
4. Upon any particular failing we ought to renew our peace with God. I have done that now which will make me guilty of the whole law; therefore, soul, run to thy Advocate (1 John 2:1).
5. We must not only regard the work of duty, but all the circumstances of it; and so proportionably, not only the acts of sin, but the vicious inclinations of it.
6. Former profession will do no good in case there be a total revolt afterward. A little poison in a cup, and one leak in a ship, may ruin all. A man may ride right for a long lime, but one turn in the end of the journey may bring him quite out of the way.
7. The smallness of sin is a poor excuse: it is an aggravation rather than an excuse: it is the more sad, that we should stand with God for a trifle. (T. Manton.)
I. To EXPLAIN IT. We cannot deny that there are different degrees of offence against the commands of God. It does not often happen, perhaps, that any person habitually and wilfully violates one commandment only. It is the nature of sin to bring men along from one transgression to another. We may suppose, however, a man who shall reserve to himself one sin, which he allows, and to keep the law very strictly in every other point. Surely such a man is less guilty than another, who is altogether careless about the commands of God. We feel it so; and if less guilty, his punishment will be less in proportion. Having seen what St. James does not mean, we will inquire what he does mean. He is censuring the Christians, to whom he writes, for a particular fault which they seem to be allowing themselves in--that of paying court to the rich, to the prejudice of those in humbler station; respecting persons, despising the poor. You will say, perhaps, “Is not this to condemn all? For who is without sin?” “In many things we all offend”; and “if we say that we have no sin, the truth is not in us.” True, none are without sin; but without deadly sin we trust that many are. True, we all offend; but we do not all offend wilfully: we do not allow ourselves in sin. We must not if we have any well-grounded hope. The true Christian will never feel that he has loved God with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and strength; but still he will never be satisfied with anything short of this, much less will he say, “I cannot love God so far as to part with this or that besetting sin.” A man who should act thus would be guilty of all--so far guilty of all that he would be as much unforgiven of God as if he had been guilty of a breach of all the commandments. His punishment might be less severe than that of a greater and more universal profligate; but it would be no less sure. His exclusion from heaven would be as certain. Such is the explanation of the text.
II. I proceed now to VINDICATE IT. You see the ease. It is that of a man who is brought under some sense of the duty owed to God. He is not without the knowledge of Him or the fear of Him, but he allows himself in some practice which is contrary to his duty. While this remains so he has not altogether surrendered himself up to God; he has not given Him his heart. Some service he will not grudge; complete service he refuses to pay.
In short, he reserves to himself the right of disobeying God when it would be difficult or painful to obey Him. Now, consider whether this deserves to be called obedience. How would it be among men? A parent expects to be obeyed by his child whilst under age. Has not such disobedience on one point caused many a child to be disinherited? A master expects to be obeyed by his servants. Suppose a servant to have many excellent qualities, to be very diligent, very careful, very honest, but still to offend in one point. A general expects to be obeyed by his soldiers. Suppose a man to be very brave, very sober, very punctual, but still to offend in one point. Is he not treated exactly as if he had broken all the commands of his general? Many excellent soldiers suffer death on this account alone in every campaign against an enemy. The people of every land are expected to obey the law of that land. He who offends the law in one point is as surely condemned as if he had committed many offences. These examples, I think, must prove to you that there is nothing unreasonable or hard to understand in this sentence of Scripture.
III. I come now to APPLY what has been said. There are two classes of sinners in the world. There are those who acknowledge no restraint from the law of God at all, and if they do not offend in every possible way, are not hindered from offending by anything like godly fear. The thought that God has commanded this, God has forbidden that, never comes into their minds; at least, it never governs their actions, Now, the text is not addressed to them. I would only inquire, If he who keeps the whole law, and yet offends in one point, is guilty of all, what must become of those who offend in every point, who take no heed to keep even any part of the law because it is the law of God? But there are other and different persons with which this sentence of St. James has to do--those who know the law of God, and confess that it ought to be obeyed, but still allow themselves some habit of sin which they do not resolve against, or watch against, or pray against. Perhaps it is a sin of natural temper, as lust, uncharitableness, peevishness. They indulge this sin, and silence the voice of conscience by thinking within themselves, “This is my natural constitution; my disposition leads me to it. I wish it were otherwise; but nature will break out.” Now, this very circumstance, that it is the natural disposition, is the reason why they should set their minds to conquer this habit. Here their probation lay. Few persons are tempted equally to all vices. This sin, then, it is their especial business to overcome; and they would make it their business if they were truly faithful. Suppose a child knew that there was one piece of duty which his father particularly required of him, would not this be the very duty which he would take especial pains to perform? I have spoken of sins which belong particularly to the temper. There are others which belong to the way of life, or bad habits to which a person has addicted himself, and which he cannot be persuaded to abandon. One of these is taking the name of God in vain. Another is excess of liquor on occasions of temptation. There are also sins of the tongue, which persons sometimes indulge without being aware of their danger. Now these which I have mentioned are all matters to which you must apply the assurance in the text. This is one test of your state. This is a serious text. Nay, we may think it awful; but I am sure we earner deny its justice. We cannot deny that God has a right to our service, and that it is not service to disobey Him when we please. We cannot think that God will be put off with half a heart. Try and examine yourselves, then, by this text before you sleep Ibis night. See whether you have permitted yourself in any habit of sin--if there is any such unforsaken sin, any such evil habit still allowed, that is the barrier between you and God; nay, between you and heaven. Lastly, I trust there are those who can affirm with sincerity and truth that they have forsworn all known sin, that they hold no parley, no measures, with any, but strive against every evil thought and word and deed which Satan inclines their nature to. This must be your evidence that you are in the faith of Christ. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. (J. B. Sumner, D. D.)
Offending in one point
The justice, the necessity of what James here asserts, will appear from the following considerations:
1. Look at the law itself. It is characterised by essential, all-pervading unity. It has manifold relations. It deals with the heart and life, the thoughts, words, and actions; with men of all ages and conditions, as bound up with and owing duties to each other as members of families, of communities, of churches. But, in perfect harmony with this, it consists of one great, all-comprehensive principle. The whole obedience it demands can be expressed in a single monosyllable. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” The matter standing thus, to break it in one respect is to break it in every respect--in its entirety, its unity. You cannot trample on a single jot or tittle of it without thereby treading on the principle of which it is the expression.
2. Look at the subjects of the law. There must be a unity in them exactly corresponding to the unity in the law. Its great comprehensive demand is love, as we have seen, and by this affection or principle alone can it be fulfilled. There cannot be a failure in any respect but by a failure of this, the spring of all true submission and service. That within us, apart from which none of the Divine statutes can be honoured, is found so far lacking; and the deficiency is to be viewed, not simply in relation to the particular enactment disregarded, but to the entire code with which it is connected. The root of the tree is shown to be affected, and that tells on the stem and all the branches.
3. Look at the Author of the law. It has been given by God, and bears throughout His impress. His authority is stamped equally on every part of the statute-book. But does not this view of the matter lie open to grave objections? Does it not make all sin equal? By offending in one point we do not become guilty of all, but we may be so in varying degrees. Violations of human law, even when they are most complete, differ widely, and so there is a scale of punishments ranging from a trifling or a short imprisonment to death itself. It is not otherwise with the supreme rule of duty. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others. To trample on even the least commandment is, in effect, to trample on the whole law; but we may do that more or less wilfully, recklessly, impiously. Again, does it not involve men equally in sin they do and do not commit? If I am held as violating the entire law, then am I not held as violating equally the part I have broken and the part I have not broken? Acts of disobedience have this universal character; but it is one thing constructively, and another thing actually, to trample on all the commandments. Offences of every kind are deadly in their nature; but we are answerable only for those we commit, and the degree of our guilt and misery depends on their number and magnitude. (John Adam.)
The prejudices of professing Christians
There are few men who would turn themselves to the commission of every crime; and if once it is imagined that the observance of one class of duties can make up for the neglect of another, there are scarcely any who will not delude themselves into the idea that they may find acceptance with God. There are two classes into which all who act with this delusion may be divided. The first consists of those who conceive that the discharge of the social and relative duties, makes up for the neglect of those higher duties we owe to the Author of existence; while the second is composed of those who satisfy themselves with the warmth of their zeal and the scrupulousness of their religious services, while they are without meekness, humility and charity.
1. The first of the prejudices to which we shall direct your attention, is that of those who conceive that if our good deeds overbalance our evil deeds, the Almighty will, in consideration of what is excellent in our conduct, overlook what is defective. The man who conceives that his sins are outnumbered by his virtues, overrates his own merits. But even admitting that any could aver that his virtues outnumbered his vices, it were erroneous to suppose that his sins must, therefore, be cancelled. His virtues are certainly deserving of the approbation of men, but never can atone for the habitual violation of any command of God. This is agreeable to those principles upon which we form our judgments of those around us. How completely our confidence in any person is destroyed, if a single dishonourable action is detected!
2. The next prejudice is nearly akin to what we have been considering, and indeed takes its rise from it. There are who maintain that their lives are chargeable with as few faults as the lives of those who make a profession of religion, and thence infer that their prospects must be equally favourable. They look at the outward act and see imperfection cleaving to the very best, from which they themselves may happen to be free; but they see nothing at all that takes place in the tuner man--nothing of the struggles between principle and passion, between grace and nature, and still less of the force of contrition, of fixed purposes of amendment. Here, then, is the difference between the two. The one sins, and hardens his heart to continue in sin; the other, when he sins, humbles himself in the dust before his God, and resolves, through His grace, to go no more astray. We see, then, the danger of satisfying ourselves with the idea that our lives are as irreproachable as those of others. The habit of measuring ourselves by others is, indeed, pernicious in another respect. It fosters a sensorious disposition, a tendency to underrate the good qualities of others. It creates a suspicion of the purity of their motives. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? In examining yourselves, look to the law by which you are to be tried. There are other prejudices to be found, to which we can only make a general illusion.
3. Some have imagined that what is revealed in Scripture does not apply to their peculiar case, and that the punishment will therefore not be inflicted.
They judge of sin by its perceived consequences, and not by its own nature. One man violates the truth, but then this injures no one. Another indulges in sinful pleasure, but his excesses are hurtful to none but himself. But we are not thus to judge of sin. Independently of these consequences, God has declared from on high against all unrighteousness.
4. We now proceed to consider some of the prejudices which prevail among the class of individuals formerly referred to, those who, by the outward observance of the first table of the law, quiet their consciences for the violation of the second, and who, dashing the one table against the other, break the whole. The other mistake is that of those who conceive that the law is altogether superseded by the gospel, and that faith in Christ exempts from the performance of good works. We only remark that the believers are exempted from the curse of the law--they are not free from the obligation to obey God, as the rule of life. Nay, by the new motives Christ has given to obedience, the obligations to obedience are increased instead of diminished. There are one or two snares into which even sincere believers are in danger of falling, which I merely mention. One is, that the readiness they have experienced on the part of the Almighty to pardon them, is employed by Satan as an encouragement to sin, in the prospect of certain forgiveness. Another is, that the power of indwelling sin is never wholly overcome in the world, from which indolence takes occasion to flatter itself, as to the folly of its endeavours, as to the hopelessness of success, and the mercy of God, which is passively relied on, is made thus to increase our willingness to offend. (D. Welsh, D. D.)
The law of philanthropy
I. IT IS THE SUBSTANCE OF ALL LAW.
II. IT IS INCONSISTENT WITH ALL SOCIAL WRONGS.
III. IT IS THE SPIRIT OF TRUE LIBERTY. Where there is selfishness, there may be license; where there is love, there is liberty.
IV. IT IS THE DETERMINER OF OUR CONDITION. By our loyalty to this law, our possession of this love, we prove that we are in the kingdom of mercy. (U. R. Thomas.)
On keeping God’s law
1. Consider how wonderfully you are obliged to your infinitely good God, in that He hath, through Christ, declared Himself so exceedingly willing to pardon all sins not allowed and lived in. Can you be so foolish and ill-natured as thus to requite the Lord?
2. Consider how gracious God hath been to you in continuing His restraining grace, whereby you have been kept from scandalous sins; whereas He hath had most just provocations to leave you to yourselves, in regard of your allowance of secret ones.
3. Let the partially obedient consider what unaccountable folly and madness it is to disobey God in anything. What can you say for yourselves, why you should obey Him but just so far?
4. Consider what a glorious reward is assured to us to encourage us to obey.
5. Let it be likewise considered that, as vastly great as the reward of obedience shall be, there is no more required of us under the gospel dispensation than, all things considered, needs must.
6. Consider also that the laws which are given us, as they are most necessary, so they are not so many as that we need to be scared at them.
7. Consider that there is so close a connection between them all, that obedience to one law will enable us to obey another, and so on. And the performance of one duty will prepare us for another, and make it easy to us. And on the other hand, the breach of one law will cause carelessness in keeping other laws; and no sin goes alone.
8. I may add that there is no necessity of being very solicitous about any more than one thing, in order to our keeping God’s laws; and that is the vigorously possessing our souls with the love of God.
9. What a sad thing and miserable disappointment must it needs be to come near to the kingdom of heaven, and yet at last fall short of it for want of going a little further? (Edward Fowler, D. D.)
The necessity of universal obedience
I. LET US FIX THE SENSE OF OUR APOSTLE’S PROPOSITION.
1. What kind of sin had St. James in view when he said this? It should seem at first, from the connection of the text with the preceding verses, theft when St. James says, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all,” he means by this one point benevolence. However, I cannot think the meaning ought to be thus restricted. I rather suppose that he took occasion from a particular subject to establish a general maxim, that includes all sins which come under the same description with that of which he was speaking. We acquit the apostle of the charge of preaching a melancholy, cruel morality, and we affirm, for the comfort of timorous minds, that we ought not to place among the sins here intended either momentary faults, daily frailties, or involuntary passions.
(1) By daily frailties I mean those imperfections of piety which are inseparable from the conditions of inhabitants of this world, which mix themselves with tire virtues of the most eminent saints. These are rather an imperfection essential to nature than a direct violation of the law.
(2) We ought not to number momentary faults among the offences of which it is said, “Whosoever committeth one is guilty of a violation of the whole law.” A believer falls into such sins only in those sad moments in which he is surprised unawares, and in which he loses in a manner the power of reflecting and thinking.
(3) We affirm their gusts of involuntary passions ought not to be included in the number of sins of which St. James saith, “Whosoever offendeth in one point, he is guilty of all.” The sins of which the apostle speaks are preceded by the judgment of the mind, accompanied with mature deliberation, and approved by conscience.
2. But in what sense may it be affirmed of any sin that he who offendeth in one point is guilty of all? It is plain St. James neither meant to establish an equality of sins nor an equality of punishments. He probably had two views--a particular and a general view. The particular design might regard thetheological system of some Jews, and the general design might regard the moral system of too many Christians. Some Jews, soon after the apostle’s time, and very likely in his days, affirmed that God gave a great many precepts to men, not that He intended to oblige them to the observance of all, but that they might have an opportunity of obtaining salvation by observing any one of them; and it was one of their maxims that he who diligently kept one command, was thereby freed from the necessity of observing the rest. What is still more remarkable, when the Jews choose a precept they usually choose one that gives the least check to their favourite passions, and one that is least essential to religion, as some ceremonial precept. This, perhaps, is what Jesus Christ reproves in the Pharisees and Scribes of His time (Matthew 23:23). Perhaps these words of our Saviour may be parallel to those of St. James. The apostle had been recommending love, and at length he tells the Jews who, in the style of Jesus Christ, “omitted mercy,” that whosoever should keep the whole law, and yet offend in this one point, would be guilty of all. But St. James did not intend to restrain what he said to love. If he had a particular view to the theological system of some Jews, he had also a general view to the morality of many Christians whose ideas of devotion are too contracted. He informs them that a virtue incomplete in its parts cannot be a true virtue. He affirms that he who resolves in his own mind to sin, and who forces his conscience to approve vice while he commits it, cannot in this manner violate one single article of the law without enervating the whole of it.
II. HE WHO VIOLATES ONE PRECEPT OF THE LAW IN THE MANNER JUST NOW DESCRIBED, VIOLATES ALL.
1. He subverts, as far as in him lies, the very foundation of the law. When God gives us laws, He may be considered under either of three relations, or under all the three together, as a Sovereign, a Legislator, a Father. He saps the foundation of that obedience which is due to God considered as a Master, if he imagine he may make any reserve in his obedience; if he say, I will submit to God if He command me to be humble, but not if He command me to be chaste, and so on. He saps the foundation of that obedience which is due to God considered as a Lawgiver, if he imagine God is just in giving such and such a law, but not in prescribing such and such other laws. He subverts the foundation of obedience to God as a Father, if he suppose that God hath our happiness in view in requiring us to renounce some passions; but that He goes contrary to our interests by requiring us to sacrifice some other passions, which he may suppose can never be sacrificed without his sacrificing at the same time his pleasure and felicity.
2. The man who offends in the manner that we have described, he who in his mind resolves to sin and endeavours to force his conscience to approve vice while he commits “it, breaks all the precepts of the law, because, whether he do actually break them or not, he breaks them virtually and intentionally.
III. St. James pronounces in our text A SENTENCE OF CONDEMNATION AGAINST THREE SORTS OF SINNERS.
1. They who are engaged in a way of life sinful of itself are guilty of a violation of the whole law, while they seem to offend only in one point. We every day hear merchants and traders ingenuously confess that their business cannot succeed unless they defraud the Government.
2. In the same class we put sinners who cherish a darling passion. A jealous God will accept of none of our homage while we refuse Him that of our chief love.
3. Finally, intractable minds are condemned in our text. Docility is a touchstone, by which a doubtful piety may be known to be real or apparent. (J. Saurin.)
The condemning power of God’s law
It is one strong presumptive evidence in favour of the truth of that system of religion which the Bible propounds to our acceptance, that its doctrines are not calculated to attract human favour or approbation. There is no traceable indication in them of an attempt at adaptation to human prepossessions. They do not bend to human frailty: they concern themselves not with human antipathies or predilections. They present a stern and unmovable aspect.
I. CONSIDER WHAT THE DECLARATION IS, AND HOW MUCH IT IMPLIES. A case is put. God has revealed in His holy Word a law for the regulation of His creatures. This law, the index of His Will, is the transcript of His own mind and character. It is therefore holy, just, and good: it is pure, perfect, and spiritual. Nothing else could proceed from Him. Has the law been transgressed (it matters not how much)? If it has been transgressed, it is to no purpose to plead in what a slight particular the transgression was committed. But the excuse is heard, that no other fault can be found, that perfect obedience has been rendered in every other particular. But why was it not fulfilled in this? justice promptly, but confoundingly demands. The offender is speechless; for the stern reply crushes in pieces his vain allegation, and shivers it to the winds. There was a young man, whose reply, when Christ rehearsed to him his duties, was, “All these have I kept from my youth.” One thing he lacked, and that was deadness to the world.
In one point of that law he offended, and that point was covetousness: he was living in the continual breach of the tenth commandment. Now, this is an invisible sin: it is not of a palpable and outward character like the rest; and the young man had never broken the other nine literally, or at least flagrantly; yet the text pronounces this verdict upon him, “He is guilty of all.”
II. BUT LET US SEE UPON WHAT PRINCIPLE THIS IS DECLARED. The principle is simply this, that the law is one and indivisible. It is true its requirements are ten in number; but the law itself is one. If you can set at naught God’s authority in one particular, you can in another: no distinction can be drawn here. If one link of the chain is broken, the chain is broken. The blow that splits a mirror into two might as well shiver it into a thousand pieces. The invasion of one law of his country deprives the culprit of his liberty or his life; and justice is deaf to any such plea as that he has kept every other law.
III. CONSIDER THE APPLICATION OF THIS PRINCIPLE TO OURSELVES.
1. It shuts every mouth: it stops boasting; hereby the seemingly innocent are brought in guilty. It hence appears that there are no little sins, that the slightest delinquencies are noticed; and the tendency is to open men’s eyes to their guilt. The law, as thus explained, admits of no escape.
2. One other result which proceeds from this principle in its application, is the arousing men out of their careless security. This the law does by discovering to them the enormity of their guilt, because it shows to them the infinite turpitude of one transgression. It is virtually equal in magnitude with many; for “whosoever offendeth in one point is guilty of all.” Thus, each sin is a boundless evil its guilt transcends all calculation.
IV. NOTICE THE MEANS OF ESCAPE FROM CONDEMNATION.
1. If there is any poor sinner, halting from his iniquities now, under the fear of conscquences to which before he has been blind, I would bid such a one not despair. Look to Jesus: He has died for you. Repent truly of your sin, and apply to Him for mercy. He will not cast you out: you may be saved by believing in His name.
2. But let me address a few words to the Lord’s people before I conclude.
(1) In reference to your privileges. Although you have offended in one, and in more than one point of the law, yet you are no longer held to be guilty of all, or indeed of any. Your answer to all charges is this: “Who is He that condemneth? it is Christ that died; yea, rather that is risen again; who also makes intercession for us.” Yes yell know that if any of you sin you have an advocate with the Father, who pleads for you His own all-availing propitiation. Therefore you are free.
(2) I would only add one word of a caution. I have said you have liberty. Yet use not this liberty as a license to transgress. See that you abuse not your privileges; neither requite God’s mercies with base ingratitude. (H. Smith, M. A.)
Guilty of all
1. It cannot possibly be the apostle’s meaning, that he who commits one sin does by that single fact contract the guilt of all other: sins. That he who pilfers, for example, is guilty of murder and adultery; so absurd is this notion, that it may at any time be reduced to a contradiction in itself; for one and the same person may, according to this explication, at one and the same time be guilty of contraries.
2. Can the apostle be supposed to mean to destroy all difference between one sin and another; and to teach that the guilt of all sins is the same, and their malignity equal; that tattling is as execrable as blasphemy?
3. But the doctrine conveyed by the text is this. That a universal obedience to all the laws of God, without reserve, and without exception, is required from us, and cannot be supplied by a partial observance; that is by a strict observance of some, and an absolute neglect of other duties.
4. And the reasonableness of this doctrine will appear from many considerations.
(1) That he who offends only in one point of the law, offends however against the Author of the whole body of laws; against that Authority upon which all other points depend, and from which they derive their force and obligation.
(2) Again, he who offends in any one point of the law with presumption of toleration in that single offence, though he strictly observes the other points, does by that absurd notion of partial obedience destroy the very attributes of God.
(3) Nor let the offender in one point plead his obedience in all others till he has considered of what force such a plea would be before a human tribunal.
5. But let us now consider the insecurity of partial obedience. What man can pretend to say he will continue to keep the whole law, save one point? There is self-deceit at the bottom of such a thought. The whole tribe of vices is so closely connected they unite imperceptibly with each other, nay, sometimes seem to require one another. If we complain of the difficulty of observing some laws more than others, we may be assured the fault is in ourselves; through habits wilfully contracted, want of observation and continual control of the more powerful affections, and therefore tend to aggravate our guilt from the unchecked reiteration of our offences. (H. Usher, D. D.)
The duty of an uniform and unreserved obedience
I. THE REASONABLENESS OF AN UNRESERVED AND UNIFORM OBEDIENCE TO GOD.
1. Suppose a servant should only execute his master’s orders when they fell in with his own humour, but should continually disobey him when they did not suit his fancy or convenience, could such a man be said to obey his master, or only to gratify himself?
2. People are not aware what they are doing when they indulge any one vice. For any one habitual bad quality will, in process of time, as effectually destroy everything morally good in us, as even many bad qualities. When it has thoroughly got possession of your heart it will soon draw the head after it.
II. THE FOLLY OF A PARTIAL OBEDIENCE. It is universally agreed that in works of art--architecture, for instance, painting and statuary--it is not one detached independent part, however ornamental, which we call beauty; it is a full result and well-proportioned union of all the several parts, which must have a noble and agreeable effect upon the whole. Thus in life it is not one single accomplishment, how excellent soever, that constitutes the beauty of a Christian life: it is the assemblage of all the moral virtues, as far as in us lies. What avails one glaring action or two, one shining quality or more, which is not of a piece with the rest of our conduct? It is but a purple patch sown upon a garment everywhere else despicably poor, and only serveth to upbraid, by its ridiculous splendour, the coarseness of all the rest.
III. ANSWERS TO OBJECTIONS. Some think themselves excusable for the commission of any fault, however notorious, because nobody is free from faults. That is, because the best of men are sometimes liable to little inadvertencies, therefore they may indulge themselves in drunkenness, malice, dishonesty, etc. Nay, they have recourse to Scripture to patronise a wicked life. To as little purpose is it to allege the examples of several great men in the Old Testament in favour of vice. For either they were known sins, of which those men were guilty, or they were not. If the former, then the severity of their repentance bore proportion to the enormity of their guilt. And who would choose to catch a dangerous distemper because some of a strong constitution, after they have undergone very severe discipline, have, with much ado, recovered their former health? But if they were not known sins, such as perhaps were polygamy, concubinage, &c., what is that to us who have no title to the same plea in behalf of the favourite vice which we retain? One objection more remains to be obviated, viz., that it is inconsistent with the Divine goodness to consign any man who stands clear of all other vices to future misery for one habitual crime. To which, first, I answer that future misery is the necessary consequence of one habit of sin, since one habit of sin disqualifies us for the enjoyment of heaven. I answer further, that it is so far from being inconsistent with God’s goodness to punish habitual sinners, that from this very attribute we may infer the doctrine of future punishments. For, if He be a Being of infinite goodness, lie must support the cause of virtue, which cannot be done without discouraging vice as well as honouring virtue.
IV. SOME PRACTICAL INFERENCES.
1. HOW necessary it is we should study the Scriptures and there inform ourselves what the will of our Maker is; otherwise we shall dignify with the name of reason whatever our craving inclination warmly pleads for.
2. A lame partial obedience, instead of an entire universal righteousness, is what we ought most to guard against. (J. Seed, M. A.)
The necessity of unreserved obedience
Suppose one of your neighbours to be punctual in obeying all the laws of the land with one exception, but to be obstinate in the transgression of that particular statute. He pays his taxes, in general, with honesty. But there is one particular tax which he cannot be persuaded to discharge. Suppose a soldier, regular in his general obedience to the orders of his superiors, to refuse to march upon a particular service to which he is appointed. W-ill you say that, because he has obeyed his officer in every other point, he is at liberty not to obey in this? Will you say that he does not deserve signal punishment? (T. Gisborne, M. A.)
The inviolability of the whole law
1. It is not merely the violation of God’s law we are to regard, but the temper which leads thereto. Sinfulness is to the sinner a greater evil than the sin. The sin is something outside of bin, self; the sinfulness inside. He has projected the sin out of himself, to be a black tact in God’s universe; the sinfulness remains in him to be the black parent of other sinful acts. If all his past sins were suddenly annihilated and still his sinfulness remained, he would be a sinner.
2. James urges the fact that each law has been enacted by the authority which makes every other law obligatory. And it may be well to note that this great principle sets every law enacted by our heavenly Father in the light of sacredness, so that it seems a solecism to speak of any sins as “little sins,” and any lies as “white lies.” Much less would little sins be excusable, if there were little sins. They require less resistance, while, like the little speck on the skin of the fluff, they may eat in and destroy all.
3. There is no middle ground between this principle and the surrender of all government. If a thing is permissible, a wise Ruler should not forbid it. If a thing is hurtful, a wise Father should not allow it. If, in all the whole category of laws, any one may be set aside, or the violation of any be indulged with impunity, then either God must select the law from which the Divine sanction is to be lifted, or the man who desires to sin must make the selection. If God be supposed to select, we have the extraordinary suggestion of the Father cherishing disobedience in the child, the monarch affording aid to the rebel, the only perfectly holy person in the universe sanctioning sin. But if each man is to select his pet sin to be indulged with impunity, he must do this either with or without the approbation of God. It cannot be the former, as that would be a case of God sanctioning sin, which cannot be entertained for a moment. And how are we to conceive of a man selecting a single sin for his indulgence without the permission of God? But, suppose we could take in that idea, then the following would result
Each man would reason from the liberty of the others to a larger liberty for himself, and so the area of rebellion would be perpetually enlarging. If all selected the same sin, the terrific state of society may be imagined. Suppose, for instance, all men kept every other commandment, but all felt at liberty to violate the eighth. The absolute worthlessness of all property would immediately ensue, and the progress of civilisation come to a dead halt. Suppose all carefully obeyed every precept of the law but the sixth, and every man felt at liberty to commit homicide at any time. It is plain that all the wit and energy of each man would be concentrated on the preservation of a life which would be worthless, because it would be reduced to a mere existence, denied of every pleasure which comes from human intercourse. In this case, as well as in the case of one man selecting lying, and another adultery, and another theft, and another murder, it is plain that human society would dissolve and the moral government of the universe would collapse. This is so plainly a necessary principle of all government, that it is acknowledged in all known codes of human jurisprudence. That a man has paid every debt but one would not discharge the obligation to pay that debt. Many a man has been hanged for a solitary act of malicious homicide. To the defence of the accused might be brought proof of a general course of even exemplary conduct. (G. F. Deems, D. D.)
One transgression of the law
One wheel broken in the machinery will render the whole inefficient; one breakage of a stave in the ladder may make it unfit for safe and full use; one piece of rail displaced on the railway may result in fearful disaster; one inch of wire cut out of the telegraph would prevent the use of all the rest, whatever its extent; one failure in any law of Nature may go on producing other failures ad infinitum. So the transgression of but one law of God: it is ruinous to the soul; it leads on to innumerable transgressions; it violates the whole code.
One omission injurious
A wealthy gentleman employed a workman to erect upon a lot in the cemetery a costly monument. After the stone had been erected, and the finishing touches put on the carving, the proud workman sent for the owner to come and inspect the work. With a smile of satisfaction the artist pointed to the monument. The owner glanced at it a moment, and turned away, saying, “You have left out one letter, which renders all the labour and anxiety you have spent on it worthless to me, and I cannot accept your work.” And so in carving the monument of our Christian characters: one pet sin may render the whole structure worthless, and cause it to crumble to dust.
No little sins
It is as supreme a folly to talk of a little sin as it would be to talk of a small decalogue that forbids it, or a dimunitive God that hates it, or a shallow hell that will punish it. Sin is registered according to heavenly measurements of holiness and majesty. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The entirety of God’s law
The strength of a chain is only equal to its weakest part. Snap one link, and what avails the strength of all the rest until that broken or loose link be welded again? The question of small sins is as clear as a problem of Euclid--a question of a drop of prussic acid and a vial full or a sea full. (A. B. Grosart, LL. D.)
Rejected for one flaw
A famous ruby was offered to this country. The report of the crown jeweller was that it was the finest he had ever seen or heard of, but that one of its facets was slightly fractured. The result was, that almost invisible flaw reduced its value by thousands of pounds, and it was rejected from the regalia of England. (A. B. Grosart, LL. D.)
Convicted as transgressors
God’s law condemneth small faults; as the sunshine showeth us atoms, moths. (J. Trapp.)
All sin has one root
Like some of those creeping weeds that lie underground and put up a little leaf here and another one there; and you dig down, fancying that their roots are short, but you find that they go creeping and tortuous below the surface, and the whole soil is full of them--so all sin holds on by one root. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Offending in one point
The law is one seamless garment, which is rent if you but rend a part; or a musical harmony, spoiled if there be one discordant note. (Tirinus.)
“Not worse than others”
This is cold comfort and false logic. Does the judge acquit a criminal because he has only defrauded £50, while another has £5,000? Are not both guilty in the eye of the law?
Actual transgression in one case involves potential transgression in all. (E. H. Plumptre, D. D.)
The broken bridge
Hossein said to his aged grandfather Abbas, “Oh I grandfather, why are you reading the Gospel?” Abbas made answer, “I read it, oh! my son, to find the way to heaven.” Hossein, who had received some instruction in an English school, smiling, said, “The way is plain enough; worship but the one true God, and keep the commandments.” The man, whose hair was silver with age, replied, “Hossein, the commandments of God are as a bridge of ten arches, by means of which the soul might once have passed to heaven. But, alas I the bridge has been broken. There is not one among us who has not broken the commands again and again.” “My conscience is clear,” cried Hossein, proudly, “I have kept all the commandments; at least, almost all,” he added, for he felt that he had said too much. “And if one arch of the bridge give way under the traveller, doth he not surely perish in the flood, though the other nine arches be firm and strong?”
A traveller relates that, when passing through an Austrian town, his attention was directed to a forest on a slope near the road, and he was told that death was the penalty of cutting down one of those trees. He was incredulous until he was further informed that they were the protection of the city, breaking the force of the descending avalanche which, without this natural barrier, would sweep over the homes of thousands. To transgress once is to lay the axe at the root of the tree which represents the security and peace of every loyal soul in the wide dominion of the Almighty. (Family Treasury.)
Danger of a single sin
Some time ago a party of workmen were employed in building a very tall shot-tower. In laying a corner one brick, either by accident or carelessness, was set a little out of line. The work went on without its being noticed, but as each course of bricks was kept in line with those already laid, the tower was not put up exactly straight, and the higher they built the more insecure it became. One day, when the tower had been carried up about fifty feet, there was a tremendous crash. The building had fallen, burying the men in its ruins. All the previous work was lost, the materials wasted, and, worse still, valuable lives were sacrificed, and all this from one brick laid wrong at the start. How little the workman who laid that one brick wrong thought of the mischief he was making for the future! That one faulty brick, which the workman did not see, caused all this trouble and death.
The law of liberty
The law of liberty
By “the law of liberty” is meant the gospel, whose principles and precepts form a rule of life now, and will be the rule of reward hereafter.
It is a law, inasmuch as it prescribes a particular form of character and course of conduct with authority and sanctions; and it is a law of liberty, inasmuch as the only adequate obedience to it is one which is perfectly free, voluntary and cheerful. It is a law that has power to work in its subjects such a spirit as will render their service perfect freedom, procure from them a willing and cheerful performance of its behests, and create such a thorough coincidence between its requirements and the choice of their wills, as will rid their submission of any feeling of restraint or awe of authority.
I. The gospel is a law of liberty, BY ITS TRANSFORMING EFFECT UPON THE PRINCIPLES AND DISPOSITIONS OF MEN. The gospel does not repeal or alter God’s law, but republishes it with some remedial and corrective accompaniments. By these, it aims to effect relief for man in that only other way which is practicable--the rectification of his wishes and inclinations, so as to make them coincide with the behests of the law, in order that he may not be free without obedience, but free in obedience.
II. The gospel is a law of liberty, IN RESPECT TO ITS MODE OF LEGISLATING FOR MEN. A free-will service is always a profuse and generous one; and as the gospel produces, expects, and accepts only a free-will service, it deals with its subjects accordingly, as with beings who will have no inclination to economise and stint their service, and dole it out in the very scantiest measures that will answer the literal terms of demand. It does not look for close construction and parsimonious obedience in its subjects, but supposes them to be inflamed with a love of duty, and directed by a spirit of liberal and affectionate loyalty. It is an evil sign of Christian people to see them always hovering on the very verge of positive impropriety and disobedience, casting a wistful eye into Satan’s territory, and arguing with the world for the last inch of debatable ground between them. Oh, rather let your doings and renunciations for Christ be generous. For your sakes He became poor. In return, be willing to do much and renounce much, and with light and willing heart take up your cross and follow Him. (R. A.Hallam, D. D.)
The law of liberty
Of all the qualities which great books, and especially the Bible, have, few are more remarkable than their power of bringing out the unity of disassociated and apparently contradictory ideas. Take these two words, liberty and law. They stand over against each other. Law is the restraint of liberty. Liberty is the abrogation, the getting rid of law. Each, so far as it is absolute, implies the absence of the other. But the expression of our text suggests that by the highest standards there is no contradiction, but rather a harmony and unity, between the two; that really the highest law is liberty, the highest liberty is law; that there is such a thing as a law of liberty.
I. WHAT DO WE MEAN BY LIBERTY? It is the genuine ability of a living creature to manifest its whole nature, to do and be itself most unrestrainedly. Nothing more, nothing less than that. There is no compulsion, and yet the life, by a tendency of its own educated will, sets itself towards God.
1. What a fundamental and thorough thing this law of liberty must be. It is a law which issues from the qualities of a nature going thence out into external shape and action. It is a law of constraint by which you take a crooked sapling and bend it straight and hold it violently into line. It is a law of liberty by which the inner nature of the oak itself decrees its outward form, draws out the pattern shape of every leaf, and lays the hand of an inevitable necessity on bark and bough and branch.
2. This doctrine of the law of liberty makes clear the whole order and process of Christian conversion. Laws of constraint begin conversion at the outside and work in. Laws of liberty begin their conversion at the inside and work out. Which is the true way?
3. This truth throws very striking light into one of the verses which precede our text, one of the hardest verses in the Bible to a great many people. “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all,” it is said. Why? Because the consistent, habitual breakage of one point proves that the others were kept under the law of constraint, not under the law of liberty. You see the flame, and you speak of it as a whole: “The house is on fire! There is fire in the house!” Just so you see the bad fiery nature which the law constrains breaking through, and again you speak of it as a whole. What particular shingle is burning is of no consequence. “The law is broken. The one whole law is broken by the one whole bad heart!”
4. The whole truth of the law of liberty starts with the truth that goodness is just as controlling and supreme a power as badness. Virtue is as despotic over the life she really sways as vine can be over her miserable subjects. Free, yet a servant! Free from external compunctions, free from sin; yet a servant to the higher law that issues for ever from the God within him. “A God whose service is perfect freedom.” Oh for such a liberty in us! Look at Christ and see it in perfection. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
The law of liberty
St. Paul claims as one of the distinguished blessings of the gospel that by it “the creature shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” It needs but little knowledge of ourselves to perceive that we have a biassed will, a strong natural tendency towards evil rather than good. No effort is needed for the indulgence of our natural appetites in ways forbidden by God’s law: conscience may whisper to us that such indulgence is wrong, but the effort is needed not for their gratification, but for their restraint. And what is thus felt to be the law of nature is confirmed by the unconscious testimony of mankind. Transgressions of God’s law are often spoken of as pleasures; acts of obedience to that law are never so described. It is this natural tendency which is spoken of in the New Testament as a state of bondage; from it Christ would deliver us; but it is obvious that we cannot be said to be completely delivered so long as it demands effort, a struggle, self-denial on our part to obey this higher law. For the very idea of liberty is the ability to do that which we wish or prefer; it is the carrying out our own plans and pursuits without interference on the part of any other, and without constraint; it is the being able to manifest our whole nature in the way we ourselves desire. It is because we are so tied and bound that we are spoken of in Holy Scripture as being “in bondage under the elements of the world.” From this state we are delivered by our incorporation into Christ, by our receiving His Holy Spirit, by our being made members of His body, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. But without our co-operation such Divine gift will profit us nothing-nay, rather it will increase our guilt, because it will make us more willing instruments in the transgressions to which we are tempted. This gift from God, then, gives us the power of a free choice--of a free choice between two powers struggling for the mastery of our souls. On the one side are the influences of our corrupt nature; and, on the other hand, the moral powers left by the Fall, conscience aided by the inspirations of God’s Holy Spirit. But in the warfare between these opposing powers of good and evil there are secondary influences which often seem to play a most important part in deciding the issue of the contest. We are all greatly affected by our surroundings. Education, the example of those we love, the maxims we are accustomed to hear, cannot fail to exert an influence upon our judgments of right and wrong. Sometimes these influences may cause good men to consent to actions which under other circumstances they would denounce as evil. But much more frequently the effect of these influences is seen in men professing a deference and regard for the principles and practices of religion which, in their hearts, they do not feel. It is quite clear that such a state of mind is not reconcilable with the thought of the happiness of heaven. Even upon earth there can be no real happiness in the discharge of religious duties or obligations with which we have no true hearty sympathy. We have sometimes heard of a temple of truth, in which men were compelled to speak exactly what they thought, in which, whilst they imagined that they were uttering the usual courtesies of life, the customary expressions of civility, or decorous agreement with the friend with whom they were conversing, they really gave vent to their inward feelings, to those thoughts which we are accustomed to keep secret, and which are sometimes far from being in harmony with what we say. To be compelled to say all that we feel, to show to their fullest extent the inclinations of our mind, the hidden preferences of which we are ashamed, and which we labour to keep secret, would be a grievous burden to us, and would sometimes present us in a very different light before others from that we should wish. But when we are in God’s presence this must be our lot. And, moreover, we shall feel that He who knows all is our Judge, that His power is irresistible whilst His knowledge is universal, that He is omnipotent as well as omniscient. And so we shall be compelled to set aside all seeming. We shall then be judged by the law of liberty, for our words and actions will be the true expression of what we are and what we feel--no disguise will be possible. And as we shall be judged at last by this law of liberty, it would be well for us all to test ourselves by it now in this our day of probation. We must have regard to both words and actions; for both are the expression of what we really are. Both with tongue and actions we may play a part for a time, but in spite of ourselves in time we show our true selves. And it is to this that the apostle would incite us. Let us so speak and so do as Christ has bidden us speak and do in His gospel. Let us place it before us as the one great end and aim of our life to do His will, to give effect to the promptings of His grace, to live for the next world and not for this, to copy the life of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. By His help this can be done; by depending upon Him this can be accomplished, but in no other way. (Dean Gregory.)
The gospel a law of liberty
I. To EXPLAIN THIS CHARACTER OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION, that it is a “law of liberty.”
1. It is evident that it is a law, that is, a revelation of the will of God to men for the direction of their lives, enforced by the sanction of rewards and punishments. Yet our condition is not rendered servile by it. We cannot in any case act without motives, but they do not make us slaves. The human nature being rational, reason does not destroy its freedom, but establish it, and is the rule of it; then only are we indeed free when we conduct ourselves with understanding. On this account principally the gospel is called the law of liberty, it restores the empire of reason in men, and rescues them from servitude to their lusts and passions.
2. Pursuant to this, Christians by the gospel have obtained a deliverance from condemnation, and therefore it may justly be called the law of liberty.
3. The gospel is a law of liberty, as it frees Christians from the burthensome rites of the Mosaic institution.
4. The gospel is a law of liberty, as it sets us free from the power and authority of men in matters of religion and conscience.
II. TO CONSIDER THE APOSTLE’S DIRECTION TO CHRISTIANS, that they should constantly endeavour to form their whole conduct by a respect to the future judgment, which will be dispensed according to the gospel, to the law of liberty.
1. It ought never to be imagined that the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free was intended to weaken the obligations of our duty, or take away the binding force of the Divine precepts which are indispensable.
2. It would seem by the connection of the apostle’s discourse that he designed this particularly as a motive to candour and charity in all our deportment towards men.
3. There is in the exhortation of the text a designed reference to the universality of our obedience, as that only which can give us hope of being acquitted in judgment. (J. Abernethy, M. A.)
Amenable to the law of liberty
To be amenable to “the law of liberty” is a very solemn thing. It involves the question: Shall I be found by the Heart-searcher to have believed its doctrines and obeyed its rules? Many, however, there are who think--unbelieving and disobedient though they be--that, since Christianity is a “law of liberty,” they themselves will be absolved. Foolish dream! perilous presumption! Yes, Christianity brings freedom in her hand, and offers it to the devil’s bondslaves. But what kind of freedom? Not liberty to sin, but the emancipation of the soul from the very taste for what is wrong. And how is the freedom which she gives attained? By a moral change which these men have never undergone, and a faith which has never taken possession of their souls. Except by faith, even the blessed and generous religion of Jesus Christ delivers no one from the ban of the broken covenant of works. The apostle requires his readers “so to speak, and so to do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.” This rule, of course, implies that words as well as deeds come within the scope of that procedure which will be taken account of at the day of judgment. So Christ expressly speaks (Matthew 12:36). And, in accordance with this principle, James dwells largely in this Epistle on the right and wrong use of the tongue. (A. S. Patterson, D. D.)
Law and liberty
Go to a cripples’ hospital and see the poor creatures all about you with legs or arms tightly bound up with splints, bandages, and irons, cramped and well-nigh useless. We know well enough why their liberty is restrained like this, why they are made so uncomfortable; it is that the limbs may be brought into the proper position to be healed or straightened, so that the patients may have the free use of them when they leave the hospital. It would be a useless and stupid thing to deprive them of what little use they could make of their limbs unless there was some higher end in view. But in order to attain that higher end, the restraint, the bandages, the irons, &c., are indispensable. So it is in our religious life. The sense of duty, moral obligations, self-denial, with their constraining and restraining influence, are like the bandages, invaluable as means to the higher end of free, loving, loyal service of God. But if we rest there, if we do not try to rise above this, we lose all the brightness and joy and peace of life; we defeat the whole purpose of God towards us, which is, that we should serve Him with the free obedience of sons, and not with the forced service of slaves. We need to see that law fails in its object, unless it leads us to Christ, unless it ends in the service of Christ. The love of Christ transforms the hard “you must” of law into the glad “I will” of liberty, and so law and liberty are reconciled. (G. H. Fowler.)
Judgment without mercy
Judgment without mercy
THE DIRECTION WHICH IS HERE GIVEN (James 2:12).
1. They were to be judged. The thing was future, but as real and certain as if it had been past or present. The testimonies to this great event are clear, varied, and irresistible. Even apart from revelation, the evidence of it is strong and conclusive. And when we do turn to the Bible, the truth is there taught, both directly and by implication, in a large number of passages. The judgment, then, is most certain. What we have to do is to realise it, to take it home to ourselves, to live under the impressions which it is fitted to produce.
2. They were to be judged by “the law of liberty.” The issue is not to turn on our natural ideas of right and wrong, on our partial, perverted, and often most erroneous views of duty. Neither is it to proceed on the maxims and customs of the world. Everything is to be done in righteousness; and here is the only complete, infallible criterion of righteousness. But mark how it is here designated. It is called “the law of liberty.” We are certainly not to understand by this that it grants liberty to do anything that is evil--that it allows liberty to be taken with its own requirements and sanctions. Its object is the very reverse. It is to restrain men from the commission of sin. In common with all law, it exists for the end of being kept, not of being broken. It is the law of liberty, because, in the case of God’s people, and they are spoken of here, its curse is taken away. The chains are broken and the believer walks forth emancipated; for, saith the apostle, “there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” He is no longer dependent on his own fulfilment of the law for the life everlasting; through the infinite mercy of God his transgressions of it are not marked against him, and he stands on the ground, not of a personal, but of a vicarious, obedience--that of his great substitute and surety. He is to be tried by it, not apart from the gospel of salvation, but, on the contrary, as incorporated with it--not in its original covenant form, but as thus magnified by the Son of God in our nature on behalf of all the redeemed, and then given to them to be the supreme rule of their character and conduct. And thus it obtains a ready, cordial acquiescence.
3. They were to live as about to be judged by this law of liberty. “So speak ye”--that is, as a habit; let this be your constant practice. Watch over your words; keep the door of your lips; guard against all transgression of the law in this respect. Avoid whatever it condemns, not merely everything profane and impure, but everything vain and unprofitable. And, in particular, remembering what is due to your neighbour according to the commandment, and what you need yourselves at the hand of God, be considerate and charitable, be just, be tender in the language you use both to and regarding your brethren of mankind, most of all your brethren in the faith of the gospel, whatever may be their earthly condition. “And so do”--so act, adds the apostle; speak, but not that only, act also as those whoare about to be judged by the law of liberty. It is not enough to make high professions, you must exhibit and maintain a corresponding practice. Fine speech will not suffice; there must be pure conduct. We must be doers of the Divine will, not hearers or talkers only.
II. THE REASON BY WHICH IT IS ENFORCED (James 2:13). James speaks here as from the day of doom itself, like one looking back to the transactions of life as over, as things of the past, not of the future or the present. His statement is to the effect that those persons who show no mercy, who work none in the case of their fellow creatures, shall find none at the Divine tribunal hereafter, but be dealt with in strict justice, according to its rigid, unmitigated requirements, apart from any modifying influence or mingling element of mercy. Having acted, not in the spirit of the law of liberty, but in opposition to it, they shall reap no benefit from it themselves at the great future assize. He adds, “And mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” It rejoiceth--literally, glorieth, boasteth. Well may one exclaim, “Grand word, memorable axiom!” Here we have the other side of the matter, the converse of the foregoing statement. Some sort of collision or contest is supposed between these two--mercy and judgment. They have their respective interests and claims; and these appear to be opposed, irreconcilable. They cannot have both absolutely their own way, and the one or the other must gain the ascendency. But mercy carries the day, it prevails in the conflict. How? Is it by trampling on judgment? Is it by robbing it of any of its lights, doing violence to any of its principles? No; it is by meeting its demands, and honouring it more than had it been allowed to hold undisputed sway and reign without a rival. This has been effected by the mission add mediation of the Lord Jesus. (John Adam.)
Mercy finds mercy
1. The condition of men under the covenant of works is very miserable. They meet with justice without any temper of mercy.
2. Unmerciful men find no mercy.
(1) It is a sin most unsuitable to grace. Kindness maketh us pity misery: “Thou wast a stranger, be kind to strangers.” God’s love to us melteth the soul, and affecteth us not only with contrition towards God, but compassion to our brethren. At Zurich, when the gospel was first preached, they gave liberty to their captives and prisoners, out of a sense of their own deliverance by Christ.
(2) It is unlike to God; He giveth and forgiveth. How will you look God in the face, if you should be so contrary to Him?
3. God usually retaliates and dealeth with men according to the manner and way of their wickedness.
4. God exercises acts of mercy with delight; His mercy rejoices over justice Micah 7:18; Jeremiah 32:41).
5. Mercy in us is a sign of our interest in God’s mercy (Matthew 5:7). It is manifested--
(1) In pitying miseries (Matthew 15:32).
(2) In relieving wants by counsel or contribution.
(3) In forgiving injuries and offences(Matthew 18:22). (T. Manton.)
Judged without mercy
The usual mode of explaining these words is that judgment in the case of the merciless shall be merciless, yet in the case of the merciful mercy glories against judgment, so as to ward off its stroke, and deliver the merciful man, so that mercy does not fear judgment, but rather glories against it and over it. The whole lesson teaching us, in Bengel’s words, that judgment shall be to every one as every one shall have been. But this exposition seems to bring in another subject, quite foreign to the writer’s argument; he is not treating of mercy or the merciful man, but of the unjust man and of judgment. Surely, if the mode of deciding the verdict of the merciful man had been intended, some mention of that character would have found a place. It seems better to regard this clause as a sort of climax to the preceding statement: You are about to be judged by the law which enjoins liberty, and the judgment which will be passed by God according to that law will be unaccompanied by mercy against the man that did not show mercy, even though it is characteristic of God’s mercy to glory against judgment. His mercy often spares when we deserve the blow, but it shall not be so then. You have judged and rejected others, you shall be judged and rejected yourselves. As you have sown, so shall you reap. (F. T. Bussett, M. A.)
Mercy rejoiceth against judgment
The history of this world lies in these few words; and you might go about with this key to unlock almost all the mysteries of God’s providence. Let us define the words. “Mercy” is love to the weak, the unhappy, and the bad. “Judgment” is punishment, or a severe sentence, or a condemnation. And the thought of the text is this--that in the Divine government “mercy” contends with “judgment” to overcome it, and then rejoices in her victory; and that, if it be so in God’s method, so it should be with us. There are four ways in which this may be done: “Mercy” may stop “judgment”--that it shall never fall; or “mercy” may mingle itself with the “judgment”--to qualify it; or “mercy” may balance and outweigh the “judgment”; or, best of all, “mercy” may turn the “judgment” into blessing. We will glance at all four, only remembering this--the mind of God is perfect unity. There is no clashing or division. We speak of His different attributes; but His Being is one and His work one--from everlasting to everlasting. He is carrying out one object, by one plan, on one principle, to one end. We divide the “mercy” from the “judgment”; but there is no difference. For God is all love. There is, then, the “mercy” which withholds the” judgment” altogether. There must be “mercy” in heaven itself, for since God “charges His angels with folly,” it is a “mercy” that He has not cast them down; and as “the heavens are not clean in His sight,” it is a “mercy” that they stand and that we can call them firmament. Look at this world. The sun rises and sets; the tide flows; the seasons return; all goes on its ancient round; and all is beautiful. Thousands and thousands go about and flourish. They laugh, and are happy. Yet on what a world does that sun each day rise and set! What a pestilence of sin broods upon this whole earth! What sounds, what sights go up to “the Lord God of Sabaoth”! And we--we know not at this moment what impending” judgments” are hanging over the head of anyone of us stayed only by the hand of “mercy.” Why are we all here so quiet? Why are we not in hell?” Mercy”--arresting “mercy”--“mercy” has “rejoiced against judgment.” Or “mercy” may “rejoice against judgment “by tempering. And which of us could not go back to many a time when that promise came to pass to us: “In men, sure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it: He stayeth His rough wind in the day of the east wind.” The mitigations of God’s “judgments” are wonderful. One look, one sigh, one thought, can change all, and in a moment take away all the wrath and almost all the pain. Who could not say that never was his heavenly Father so fatherly to him as when he was chastened? And so it has been, and so it will be to the end. The “sifting” is to come; but God will make it plain. Death may come, but no terror. There will be a “valley,” but no darkness. There will be solitude, but no fear. This world will pale away, but a brighter one will be opening. “If this be dying,” said Bishop Beveridge, “would that I could die for ever!” So “mercy” rejoices against “judgment.” Or the compensations of our “judgment” may be the method in which “mercy” triumphs. Never does God take anything away but He has something better to put in its place. The pains of the body are the medicines of the soul. Sad changes come into our families, and make deep chasms; but Christ comes and sits in the empty seat. We can count our troubles by units, our mercies by millions. But now I have yet to trace God’s own, truer, far higher, better way, by which He is wont to turn the “judgment” into “mercy,” till the sorrow becomes itself the joy. See it thus. He made a free, responsible creature, and the free and responsible creature, in his freeness and responsibility, chose sin, and for sin he was expelled from paradise, and doomed to die. That was the “judgment.” Then “mercy” stood up, and defied the “judgment”; and mercy did her own work. And what is the result? We have lost a paradise, and find a heaven 1 We have lost a garden, but got glory! We have lost God’s visits at certain intervals, to have His presence for ever and ever. What have we not in the Second Adam--infinitely more precious than all which we could have inherited in the First Adam? Examine any of the great “judgments” which have ever come upon this earth, and look how they issued. That great beacon, the Flood--did not mankind need that exhibition of God’s power and holiness? Was not it the grand type of a flood of grace to cleanse and a flood of fire to restore and renew this earth again? And did not “mercy” more than hold its own over the Flood when Christ “went and preached to those very spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah”? And Babel’s scattering--was not it to carry the knowledge of the true God, which else had remained confined to one spot, over the whole earth? and, like “the blood of martyrs” in every age, did not it become the “seed of the Church”? Or Israel’s seventy years’ captivity--do you not know that they went down to Babylon to unlearn, for the first time, their idolatry, that they have never been idolaters since? And their present dispersion and degradation--what a witness to truth it is to all the ages let every man see--what a testimony to prophecy, and what a preface to that grand comingchapter when their restoration shall be “as life from the dead” to the whole world! There is not a child of God who could not stand up and say that his “judgments” have been the elements which went to make his best happiness and his truest hopes. His tears have become his rainbow. And when the question goes round in heaven, “How came you here?” the greater part by far will make answer, “My sorrows! my sorrows!” So “mercy” entered the lists with “judgment,” and “mercy” won the day; and far above the clouds of wrath her banner floats, and she sits on high and chants her song of victory: “Mercy reigneth and rejoiceth against judgment”! Now, what measure has been meted to you measure again. Let “mercy” have her right place in your heart. Before you begin to speak of anybody’s faults, or even look at them, look at three things. Look at their good points. It is such a poor talent to see faults; it is so high and Christlike to see excellences. Use your eyelids to men’s failings, and open your eyes to their virtues. Secondly, see and make all allowance for circumstances. How different their circumstances from yours! How much more tempted than you! And how much less likely to resist! and how much of their sins, after all, may be accidental and circumstantial! how much purely physical I how much irresponsible! And then how little do you know what is going on in secret, in those very hearts that you are condemning!--what struggles! what hidden misery! what prayer! what repentance! what holy earnestness! what wrestlings with God! And above all, look at yourself. What have you done? How have you provoked God? How much heavier, if weighed in God’s balance, your sin would be than anybody else’s! Never look at sin but with pity. Take care that you never “smite those whom God hath not wounded.” Never condemn I never speak harshly. Place yourself on the lower ground. Tell of pardon, tell of Jesus! tell of heaven, tell of mercy. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Mercy rejoiceth against judgment
Far in the Empyrean heights, above the rolling spheres, is the Eternal City, the central seat of the great King. In its midst is a throne, all resplendent with celestial glories. There sits the Ancient of Days, the Creator and Ruler and Judge. Before the throne appears a personage of shining character, clothed in robes of light, celestial in her aspect, yet with bended knee, and with a tear upon her cheek. She appears there in supplication; not for herself, but for others; an intercessor for offenders. “Sire Eternal, admit Thy humble creature’s utterance. Down in far distant space is a speck of dust. There dwells a creature of humble grade, composed of dust himself in part, yet having a spark of intellectual being--a germ of immortality. That creature, though formed but last of all Thy works, has sinned. O Sovereign of the universe, suffer a plea to be presented for his pardon!” While these words were being uttered another personage appeared, and approached the throne. She was shining, like the former, of heavenly mien, yet different in her aspect. She stood erect, and no tear was on her face. She came, as the other ceased, to present a counter-plea. “Sovereign Judge,” she said, “the Just! the True! how can Mercy’s plea be granted? Justice has claims which cannot be dispensed with. Man, having sinned, must meet the due recompense. How can Justice be turned from her right?” Mercy interposed, in her beseeching tones: “But man is frail--a creature of flesh and ignorance, a creature of a day. He is as nothing compared with Thee, O Sovereign Judge! Yet his happiness is much to him. Turn from him the tokens of Thy displeasure, and let him live!” Justice again presents her counter-plea. “True,” she says, “compared with some other orders of being, man is frail; yet is he an appropriate subject of law. Insignificant, in himself, he may indeed be; yet have not his crimes given him consequence? He has knowingly transgressed, and continued to transgress. With the law in his hand--the law of universal love--he has disregarded alike its requisitions and its threatenings, and filled the world with idolatry and irreligion, corruption and crime. And has not the law threatened death to the transgressor?” But Mercy, intent on her purpose, still finds an argument to urge in reply. “Is not death,” she says, “the death threatened, an evil of too great magnitude? Can any creature endure it? Will the Infinite allow Himself to award to any creature, however far from righteousness, so dreadful a doom? Is not mercy one of Thy chief glories? Wilt Thou not, then, show Thyself merciful to man?” To which Justice rejoined: “The threatened punishment is no more than sin deserves. If it is great, it is only so because sin is a great evil, is committed against a great, an infinitely perfect, an infinitely glorious God, against boundless riches of goodness--infinite, eternal, and unceasing love. Moreover, the punishment, great as it may be, grows out of the very sin committed, as its natural consequence. If man take fire into his soul, can he complain if he be left to feel it burning there?” But further Justice pleads: “Has not the Infinite declared that sin shall be thus punished? How can the utterances of Thy lips be set aside? Who will believe again that Jehovah is true? Who again will tremble at His threatening, or fear to sin? If one sinner may escape a righteous recompense, and that in violation of a solemnly uttered sentence, then may another, and another; and the government of the Infinite, the Eternal Supreme, is undermined, and passes away for ever!” So Justice reasoned. And Heaven saw and felt the cogency of her plea. Even Mercy can say no more. She bows in silence, though still sorrowing. Man is bound and delivered over to the executioner’s power, and the sword of Justice is lifted over him. At this awful moment another scene arrests attention. From the light inaccessible which surrounds the throne comes forth a Personage, unseen before, partaker in the Godhead. With infinite pity He approaches the Eternal Sire, and says: “On Me be the wrong of man. On Me let Justice exact her utmost claims. By Me, descending to the world of sin, and dwelling in flesh like its lost inhabitants, and yielding up My life a sacrifice to Thee in their behalf, shall law be honoured and veracity and equity sustained, and man, accepting the preferred favour, shall live.” Deep silence was in heaven. Rapt wonder and awe held its circling throngs. The Eternal Sire assented to the Son. Alight, a glory shone, such as heaven itself had not before seen. Mercy and Justice bowed together before the throne, and bowed together before the wondrous Deliverer, and owned Him for their Lord. Justice herself wept. And suddenly, bursting from all the lips of the blessed, there went up a song, in strains like the voice of many waters, and like many thunderings, and harpers harping with their harps, saying, “Alleluia!” “O the depth of the riches,” &c. “Mercy and Truth are met together,” &c. Tiros “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” (L. F. Dimmick, D. D.)
Though a man say he hath faith, and have not works
The popular notion of faith is, that what a man does net deny, he believes; and that if he will maintain a doctrine in argument, he thereby proves that he believes it.
Now this may not be faith in the true sense at all. The true notion of faith is, conviction in action, principles operating in the life, sentiments embodied in conduct. Faith is practically nothing so long as it is merely in the head. Head faith can save no man. This is exactly so in daffy life. There is no witchery or mystery in this doctrine at all. Faith cannot save you in commerce, any more than it can save you in religion. Faith cannot save the body, any more than it can save the soul. So let us save Christianity from the supposed mistake of setting up a fanciful scheme of salvation; let us be simply just to the Son of God, by showing that He requires only the very same common-sense conditions of salvation that are required by ourselves in the common relations of our daily life. A man believes that if he puts his money into certain funds he will get back good interest with the most assured security. Yet at the end of the year he gets literally nothing. How was that? Because, though he believed it, he did not put any money into the funds. Can faith pay him? A man thoroughly believes that if he takes a certain mixture, prescribed for him by good medical authority, he will be recovered from his disease; but he gets no better; because, though he believed in the mixture, he did not take it. Can faith save him? Yet this is the very thing which people want to do with religion! They get a certain set of notions into their heads; they call those notions orthodox, and they expect that those notions will save them! It is an insult to common sense. The question is not whether those notions are in our head, but, what effect have they upon our life? Do they find their way from the head to the heart, from the heart to the hand? Fine geographical knowledge will never make a traveller. An exact knowledge of the chemical properties of water will never make a swimmer. You must bring your faith to a practical application. If I really and truly, with understanding and heart, receive the truths of the Christian religion, is there anything in them, as such, likely to move my life in a practical direction? Are they too subtle and speculative for time? As a mere matter of fact, the truths of Christianity are infinitely practical. They touch life at every point. In the morning, they are a loud call to duty; in the evening, they are a solemn judgment upon the day: when we go to business, they say, “Do unto others as ye would that others should do unto you.” Here, a peculiar danger discovers itself. The man who wishes to avoid all that is most spiritual and holy in the Christian religion, inquires whether he cannot do all these duties as a mere moralist, without being what is distinctively known as a saint. He says he loves justice and mercy, benevolence and sympathy, and asks whether he cannot exercise or display them apart from what is called “saving faith in Christ.” Let us consider that question. There is a conduct that is philosophical, and there is a conduct that is spiritual; that is to say, there is a conduct that is based on logic, on the so-called fitness of things, on self-protection; and there is a conduct based upon a spiritual conception of sin, upon a realisation of Divine oversight and Divine judgment; and it is undoubtedly open to us to Consider the respective merits of each theory of life. I accept the spiritual, because I believe it to be fundamental; it is not a clever theory, it is a living reality; it is not a self-pleasing speculation, it is a law, a judgment, an eternal quantity. I must have a moral standard which I did not set up, and which I cannot pull down; a moral law which will harmonise with my nature, and yet for ever be above it; a law that will judge me; a law acting through all time, applying in all lands, overriding all circumstances and accidents; far above me as the sun, round about me as the light; not a guess on the part of man, but a distinct and solemn and final revelation from God. This I have in Christ Jesus; and if I accept it by a living faith, it will come out in a holy, tender, wise, and useful life, and thus I shall be saved by faith. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Faith and works
There is no analogy between mind and matter more remarkable than the reaction to which both are liable. Draw a pendulum, for example, over on one side; let go; obeying the law of gravitation, it seeks its centre. It does more, swings over to the other side. Twist a cord that has a weight attached to it, and loosen: revolving rapidly on its axis, it untwines itself; does more, passes by malay turns in an opposite direction. Or follow the billow, that, driven by the tempest, launches itself on an iron shore. Thundering it bursts into snowy foam; but more, like men retreating from a desperate charge, it recoils back into the deep. Even so of change of manners or opinion; how prone are men to pass from one to an opposite extreme, borne by the recoil beyond the line of truth! A danger this, that reformers, whether of Church or State, public morals or private manners, need to guard against. In this way we account for the very remarkable judgment that Luther pronounced on this Epistle of the Apostle James. He denied its Divine authority, he said it was not inspiration; and, not content with refusing it Divine authority, he spoke of it most contemptuously, calling it a “chaffing epistle.” Luther fancied that he saw in the Epistle of James a discrepancy between what James taught and what Paul taught, in regard to justification by the righteousness of Jesus Christ; and believing that he saw that, he rashly rejected this Epistle, scared by a phantom, by the mere appearance of discrepancy. There is no real discrepancy. Explanation of the appearance of it lies in this, that the Epistle of James was written after the Epistles of Paul had been perverted, grossly abused, turned to the basest purposes. Men had risen up, who held that if a man had knowledge, that was enough; if he gave a cold and intellectual assent to certain doctrines, though his heart was impious and his life impure, he might be saved. It was against this pestilent heresy that honoured Christ in word, but dishonoured Him in work; it was against those that held the doctrine of a spurious faith, against these that James took pen in hand, and asked, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? Faith, if it hath not works, is dead.”
I. Now let me remark by way of caution that I may not be misunderstood, that notwithstanding what the apostle appears to say, and does say, that nevertheless we are saved by faith, we are saved by faith in the merits of Jesus Christ alone. James says, “Can faith save him?” I say it can--undoubtedly it can. Not the spurious faith, the false and spurious faith that is without works, and is dead, but such a faith as bringeth forth works; and how? Not by any merit of its own, for it is the gift of God, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is no more than the rope which the drowning man clutches, and by which another pulls him living to the shore. God its Author, the heart its seat, good works its fruits, Christ its object, and it saves the sinner by bringing him to the Saviour. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Saved if my faith is weak? Ay, however weak your faith is, if it is a true and living faith, it is enough. Our blessed Lord drew lessons from singing birds and gay flowers; and I have seen in the conservatory a plant from which such saints as John Bunyan’s Mr. Feeble-mind might gather strength, and draw something more fragrant than its odours, and something more beautiful than its purple flowers. Climbing the trellis that it interwove with greenest verdure and flowery beauty, it sprang from the soil by a mere filament of a stem, unlike the pine of yonder mountains, unlike the sturdy oaks that are built to carry their heads, and bear the storms they have to encounter. You require to trace this upwards and downwards to believe that that living shred, that filament of a stem, could be the living sustaining, channel that carried the sap from the root to all these flower’s and verdant branches. And when I looked on it I thought how like it looks to the feeble faith of some living saint; but there the likeness ceases. Roughly handled one day, that filament of a stem was broken and separated from the living root; branches and flowers withered away.
II. Let me now remark, in the second place, that whale it is by faith that unites us to Jesus Christ that we are saved, good works are the certain fruit of this living, saving faith. One of France’s bravest marshals had in a civil war for his opponent the Prince of Conde, and in Conde he had a foeman worthy of his steel, the only man that could rival Turenne in handling troops, in moving armies, in sudden and successful attacks. Well, one night when Conde was supposed to be many leagues away, Turenne was sleeping soundly in his tent. He was suddenly aroused by shouts, and the roar of cannon an d of musketry, that were to him the certain signs of a midnight assault, He hastened from his tent, he cast his eyes around him, and at once discovering by the burning houses, by the quarters of the attack, by the skill with which it was planned, by the energy with which it was executed, the genius of his only rival, he turned to his staff and said, “Conde is come.” Certain men announce themselves; certain causes announce themselves: and especially in cases of sudden conversion you can almost as surely say, “Conversion is come, salvation is come, Christ is come.” It is nothing but faith that can unite us thus to Christ. Faith announces itself, but in another way. The Apostle Paul, while he says that salvation “is of faith and not of works, lest any man should boast,” speaks as distinctly of works. This his subject, his trumpet utters no uncertain sound. On the contrary, while he says that salvation is not of works but of faith, “lest any man should boast”; while he says that we are cleansed through Christ from sin, in the very same passage he adds that “we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” You talk of predestination and foreordination. I say predestination and foreordination have as much to do with good works as they have to do with salvation; and good works, according to that passage of Paul, are in all cases as sure as foreordination can keep them, the natural fruit of faith. And how can it be otherwise? In every other region where it works, is not faith the grand worker in this world? In the character of God, in the Person, love, and work of Jesus Christ, in an eternal world, in the Bible with its gracious promises and its glowing prospects, faith has to do with the noblest truths, and, if any man here, not devout in heart, not holy in life, says that he has faith, he deceiveth himself. But God says, “Be not deceived, neither whoremongers, nor unclean persons, nor covetous persons, that are idolaters, have any inheritance in the kingdom of God.”
III. Let me now, in the third place, turn your attention briefly to this remark which follows from the former, that the hopes of salvation through faith, which are founded on a faith without works, are of necessity therefore false, and being false are therefore fatal. Last century, in my country, whatever it may have been in this or elsewhere, and I believe it is true of most--last century faith was out of fashion, unless at a communion season. The peculiar doctrines of the gospel, at least in Scotland, were in many places, and in most indeed, seldom presented before the people. “Christ and Him crucified” were thrust into a corner. Such was the state of matters then and there. Virtue and vice--the beauties of virtue and the ugliness of vice, these were the favourite topics of the ministers, and the people had so little taste that they did not fall in love with Virtue, and even some of those that were accustomed to paint her in the pulpit, had very little regard for her themselves. And strange to say, the more the people had virtue preached to them, the less they practised it. And Jesus shut out of the pulpit, the Cross taken from the preacher, the love of Jesus never heard or carried to people’s hearts, there was nothing to produce good works; there was no pith in preaching, there was no straw to make bricks with, there was no seed to yield up a harvest, there was, so to speak, no backbone to support the soft parts and keep the form erect. The religion that we want is the religion that has Christ for its root, and good works in everything for its fruits. And any other religion is dead, James says. James says, “Faith if it have not works, is dead.” Not dead like a stone, which, in the flashing diamond, and in the sculptured marble, may be beautiful--but dead like that lifeless body, putrid, foul, horrible in its decay. Let me now turn your attention to this--that believers are called by Christ’s Word to be workers. You are called to be believers; believe. And then when you believe, you are called to be workers. “Hold to the faith, be steadfast, steady, unmovable”; But He adds now, as He added then by the voice of Paul, “Always abounding in the work of the Lord.” (T. Guthrie, D D.)
I. THE APOSTLE’S ARGUMENT. The apostle was thoroughly well aware how easy it is for the mind of man to slide into a notional possession of faith, which in itself possesses no power, and is altogether unprofitable. Persons of sanguine temperament have often wrought themselves up into a notion that they possessed faith, and they have seemed to exercise that faith towards Christ as its legitimate object; but it has been rather the sentiment of faith than faith itself, with its vitality and energy. It is possible that this delusion may be practised for a considerable time and to a great extent. And what would be amongst its immediate effects? Unsteadiness, inconsistency, want of spiritual progress, and, at length, decline from all profession. The person who is under the sentiment rather than the power of a real faith may be like the branch of a tree, cut off and planted without a root; it may be fresh and green to all appearance for a time, but there is no life in it, it is a dead branch, it is a powerless thing, it will never blossom, it will yield no fruit.
II. THE ILLUSTRATION. The mind of man may be acted on by the distresses of others: there may be a kind and a degree of commiseration felt for human wretchedness; nay, there are those who will weep with emotion over a tale of fiction, and almost by the power of human sympathy realise it as if it were true, and seem ready to give up the heart at once to the deepest impression that can be made. We delight in the manifestation of human sympathy--we begin to anticipate that it will become very profitable in its results; but still there may be the power of selfishness within, that shall at length obliterate the impressions that have been made on the sensitive nature: the emotion passes, and the step has not been taken, it may be, to alleviate that distress which is known to exist. And there is a disposition in the mind of man--a complex disposition--first to cherish images and pictures of distress that excite the emotion, and then to escape from the emotion when it has been excited. The apostle, then, puts this case, and says--“What does all this profit?” There is the naked object--he is unclothed; there is the hungry--he is unfed. Where is all this emotion, all this expressed sympathy? It has passed away like a vapour. Human sympathy, like faith, if it is to work anything, must bring out its direct results, or it is altogether an unprofitable thing.
III. THE CONCLUSION of the apostle’s argument. “Even so,” saith he, “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone”--or, as the margin says, “being by itself.” The conclusion is inevitable. The true faith which justifies does invest the possessor of it with a power of working works acceptable to God. If there be no works acceptable to God--if there be, for instance, no power of holiness manifested in the ordinary details of the Christian professor’s life--it profits nothing, it leaves the sinner as it found him; it is but a cremation of his own mind, it is not that faith which brings the soul by the Spirit into union with Christ, and gives it both power and activity. “Even so, faith, if it hath not works, is a dead thing.” And we ask, therefore, of the Christian professor, when he tells us he has faith, the production of his works--not simply and on the whole ground of the evidence of his faith, but in order that the works may give consistency to his profession, and proof that he has possessed the death and the life of the Lord Jesus Christ by direct investiture from God Himself. (G. Fisk, LL. B.)
Two kinds of faith--the spurious and the genuine
I. THE SPURIOUS FAITH WHICH THE TEXT CONDEMNS. “What doth it profit, though a man say he hath faith.” The first point to be observed is that this faith is a faith of outward profession. We know how easily men are often persuaded to say what they do not feel, and to profess what they do not steadfastly believe and heartily embrace. This radical evil runs through the whole description given by the apostle of the kind of faith which he reprobates. It is something more talked about than felt, more boasted of than experienced, more used for self-confident display than applied to the business and practice of life. We observe, further, that there is a false faith which presumes without warrant upon its title to the favour of God and the happiness of heaven. The freeness with which the blessings of redemption are promised in the gospel has ever been the occasion--though most unjustly--with men of corrupt and insincere minds for turning the grace of God into licentiousness. This was the signal abuse which St. James found it necessary to combat, and he leaves it neither root nor branch. He first asks, with a keen sense of holy contempt for such an empty faith, “What doth it profit?” Does it make him who boasts in the possession of it a whit the better? Does it impress the slightest lineament of the Saviour’s image on his mind? Or will it produce any salutary effect upon his future and eternal condition? Can this faith--this notional faith, this faith of mere profession, this faith which produces no fruit--can this faith save him? It may delude him with many hopes, it may raise him to temporary excitement and exultation, it may urge him even to meet death without fear; but can it save him? This is the only important question; and it can have no other answer than a fearful negative! Again, the apostle presses a powerful argument from analogy. He compares faith with charity or love. For any one to say he has faith without its proper fruit is the same thing as to say that he has love without its appropriate fruit. Your sympathy goes no further than words or sentimental feelings; it stops at the very point which would give evidence of its vitality, and therefore it is not true Christian love, it profiteth nothing. Apply the same reasoning to faith. If yours is a faith which produces no fruit, “if it hath not works, it is dead, being alone.” A further step which the apostle takes for the detection of a spurious faith is the direct demand of evidence respecting its existence. Thou bossiest of an impalpable something which thou canst not prove to have any existence whatever. Here are no signs of life, no proof that the whole of thy profession is not either hypocritical or delusive. Say what you will, there is no faith where there are no works. Is it replied, Yes, I certainly do believe in the existence of God? That may be, and yet you may be destitute of the faith which saves the soul; for even “devils believe and tremble,” yet they remain devils still, and are for ever excluded from salvation! Once more, look at the examples of Scripture, the very examples quoted by St. Paul for the purpose of proving that a man is justified by faith only. Do not the cases of Abraham and of Rahab show that this justifying faith was also a working faith? A profession of faith, accompanied though it be by the clearest convictions of the judgment, is nothing but a lifeless carcass, unless it breathes and acts in holy thoughts and holy conduct, showing forth the praises of Him who is its great Author, and who has promised eternal salvation to every one that believeth.
II. THE NATURE OF THAT FAITH WHICH BY IMPLICATION IS COMMENDED IN THE TEXT. Of this faith God is the Author. It is His gift, and the most precious of all the spiritual gifts which He bestows upon man. Hence faith is not a notion, not an opinion, not a mere product of the understanding; it is a vital, efficacious principle inwrought into the soul by Divine grace. It is the very life by which we live; the might of Divine omnipotence, strengthening the weakness of a dying worm, and kindling all holy affections within the human breast. This faith accepts, without hesitation, the Divine testimony, resting with implicit confidence on the Word of God, and desiring no other and no higher authority than this for the most perfect and unlimited trust, and for the most sincere and universal obedience. Hence follows the cordial acceptance of Christ crucified as the object of our faith. It must be with a faith which unites the soul to Christ in holy bonds, which makes us one with Him and Him with us, which causes us daily to feed on Him in our hearts, and to hold sacred fellowship with Him as our Guide, Redeemer, and Friend. Finally, it must be by a faith which, while it puts away from itself all merit of works, yet brings forth abundantly those works of holy obedience which are the proper fruits of the Spirit, and which flow as legitimate effects from the holy principles which grace has implanted in the breast.
III. MAKE PRACTICAL USE OF THIS DOCTRINE. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” It is adduced as an evidence of the irresistible power of Demosthenes over the minds of his hearers that, when he had finished his speech against Philip of Macedon, the assembly instantly exclaimed, “Come, let us fight against Philip!” Their resolution, however, though ardently and sincerely expressed while under the excitement produced by most thrilling eloquence, was but ill-sustained or vindicated by their future conduct. Now, the faith of Christ not only prompts to holy and energetic resolves, but ensures a practice corresponding with such resolves. It is a living faith, and the proof of its life is in its effects. And it is not bare life, but life in action--life in the discharge of holy service--life in spiritual power, which faith exhibits. The Christian is not only a living, but a fruitful, branch in the True Vine. The sap which flows from the root does not expend itself wholly in leaves--there is the bud, the blossom, and the ripened cluster. The Christian is not a paralysed member of the mystical body of Christ, but moves and acts as the Head directs, not only possessing life, but feelings its power, and consciously and cheerfully yielding to the influence of its Guide. (John King, M. A.)
The test of faith
There are two main errors in religion which it is the duty of Christ’s ministers frequently and fully to point out. the one, that we can be righteous by our own deservings; the other, that whereas works are not meritorious, they may be neglected.
I. THAT FAITH MUST BE PROVED BY SOME TEST; and--
II. THAT THE TEST ESPECIALLY PROPOUNDED OF IT IS SCRIPTURE IS THAT OF HOLY WORKS.
I. That a mere profession of belief is useless must appear very evident to any one who chooses to give the matter the slightest consideration. For there are numerous examples in Scripture of those who rightly professed, but whose heart nevertheless was not right with God. The fact is that there are various kinds of faith spoken of in Scripture, which have each its appropriate fruit, but of which one kind only leads to close union with Christ, and consequently to eternal life.
1. There is an historical faith. We read the Scripture narrative, and we credit it. As well might it be imagined that the belief in the existence of water would quench our thirst, the knowledge of a remedy would cure a disease. No: to believe in Christ in this way has no more saving virtue than to believe the record given of any other being.
2. There is another faith of which the Scripture speaks. Our Lord told His disciples that if they had faith as a grain of mustard seed, they might bid a ponderous mountain be removed, and it should move at their word Matthew 17:20). And it cannot be doubted that, in the earlier days of Christianity, there were those who cast out devils in the Saviour’s name, and in His name did many mighty works, who yet were not His friends, or savingly converted to Him. The faith whereby miracles are wrought has its appropriate effect. And what is this? Why, the benefit (supposing it to he cure of diseases) is to those on whom the cure is performed. It benefits not the soul of the man who works the wonder, unless you would imagine that, by the administering of a medicine to the patient the physician therein cures also himself.
3. There is a third kind of faith which the Scriptures describe. Perhaps I should not err in calling it the faith of the passions. It is the belief which is grounded upon fear or admiration--any passing emotion of the mind. Hence it produces effects wholesome it would appear for the time, but of a most limited character. Such was the faith of Lot’s wife. She believed the coming ruin of Sodom. She quitted the devoted city. But the lingering love of her ancient home returned: her faith faltered. Such a faith was that of Herod. He believed the plain truths which the prophet of the desert proclaimed to him. He began a reformation. But his faith lasted not long. As soon as lust was attacked, it summoned all its powers, quenched in the monarch’s breast his feeble belief of the Baptizer’s mission. And so you see there are kinds and degrees of faith which save not the soul. Is not the inference inevitable, that we must try and prove our faith and bring it to the touchstone? that we must ascertain if ours be the genuine faith of God’s elect?
II. Whether that which is proposed in Scripture is not the evidence of holy works. Our Lord’s declaration seems precise enough: “By their fruits ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” Matthew 7:16; Matthew 7:20). This test, then, we must adopt. It must be carefully observed that by good fruits, good works, I do not mean merely moral conduct. For, though where this exists not there can be no genuine faith or real religion, yet the life may be to the eye unblamable, and yet there be in the heart none of that spiritual principle or influence which God requires. Each part of Christian doctrine, if I may so speak, will be exhibited by its appropriate proof. Genuine faith, receiving the sad truth of man’s corruption, will be evidenced by a real, not a merely professed, humiliation before God. Now, though certainly love may exist when it is but professed, yet surely the best proof of its existence is the actual exhibition of it. Desire is in the same way best shown by men’s really making exertions to obtain that which they say they long for. Fear is most clearly exhibited when we actually shrink from that which we say we dread. If, then, the best proof of the existence of all these passions or principles be the really doing that which they, if actually felt, would naturally prompt to, so we may conclude it is in spiritual things: the best proof of repentance is an earnest endeavour to be freed from the power and punishment of that sin which we say we mourn for. And, further, genuine faith receiving the record which God has given of His Son will be manifested in an actual resorting to Christ for forgiveness and a cordial affection to His person, work, and offices. Practice is the proper fruit of every gracious affection: it is the proper proof of the true knowledge of God: “Hereby,” says the apostle, “we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments” 1 John 2:3). Practice is the proper fruit of real repentance. Hence John the Baptist required the Jews to “bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” Practice is the proper evidence of genuine faith. It was by actually complying with God’s command to offer up his son that Abraham showed his real belief in the Lord’s word. Practice is the proper evidence of a true closing with Christ for salvation. This is evident from the different reception, as we read in the Gospels, Christ’s calls met with. By some they were declined or deferred: “Suffer me first to go and bury my father.” Practice is the proper evidence of real thankfulness to God. And that this test is the true one is proved by what we see to be the dealings of God with men. We find that He tries, or, as it is sometimes called in Scripture, He “tempts” men, i.e., He brings them into situations where natural principles and affections run counter to the requirements of His Word. Thus Abraham was tried to see whether paternal affection would prevail over his trust in God’s declarations. Thus Hezekiah was tried to see whether natural vainglory would overcome humble gratitude for God’s mercy. Thus Peter was tried to see whether the fear of man were stronger than love to Jesus Christ. This test, let me further observe, is needed for the individual himself. Some mistakenly deny this. They allow that, to others, the proper proof of a man’s profession is his actually walking in the fear and good ways of the Lord; but they say that he, for himself, as if by intuition, knows whether he has really laid hold on Christ, whether he really loves God. Do not these men understand that the human heart is “deceitful above all things”? Do they not remember that there is such a thing as self-deception, a persuasion of the mind that we desire, love, fear that which, on proof, we desire not, love not, fear not? David, sensible of this, entreated the Lord to examine and prove him, and to try his reins and his heart (Psalms 26:2). And so every humble believer will desire. He will not be content with notions: he must have things. He is not satisfied with a religion of the lips or of the thoughts: he must see it influencing the whole man. He relies not on any conduct as the ground of acceptance in God’s sight: he does look at it for evidence whether or no he has laid hold upon the things which make for his eternal peace, whether or no he has truly come to Christ for salvation. And now, seeing these things are so, let me seriously, in concluding the subject, ask you what proof you are giving of the reality of your profession? (J. Eyre, M. A.)
St. James and St. Paul
It seems likely that St. James had seen St. Paul’s epistles, for he uses the same phrases and examples (cf. verses 21, 23, 25, with Romans 4:3; Hebrews 11:17; Hebrews 11:31, and verses 14, 24 with Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16)
. At all events, the Holy Spirit by St. James combats, not St. Paul, but those who abuse St. Paul’s doctrine. (A. R.Fausset, M. A.)
St. Paul and St. James on faith
St. Paul meets the legalist; St. James the Antinomian. (W. H. M. Aitken, M. A.)
They do not stand face to face fighting against each other, but back to back fighting opposite foes. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Faith in germ and manifested
Plainly St. James means by works the same thing as St. Paul means by faith; only he speaks of faith in its manifested development; St. Paul speaks of it in its germ. (A. R.Fausset, M. A.)
Believing and doing
are blood relatives. (S. Rutherford.)
What doth it profit?
Plutarch, who was a young man at the time when this Epistle was written, has the following story of Alexander the Great, in his “Apothegms of Kings and Generals”: The young Alexander was not at all pleased with the successes of his father, Philip of Macedon. “My father will leave me nothing,” he said. The young nobles who were brought up with him replied, “He is gaining all this for you.” Almost in the words of St. James, though with a very different meaning, he answered, “What does it profit [ὄφελος], if I possess much and do nothing?” The future conqueror scorned to have everything done for him. In quite another spirit the Christian must remember that if he is to conquer he must not suppose that his Heavenly Father, who has done so much for him, has left him nothing to do. There is the fate of the barren fig-tree as a perpetual warning to those who are royal in their professions of faith, and paupers in good works. (A. Plummer, D. D.)
Religion more than intellectual assent
Are you any more a Christian because of all that intellectual assent to these solemn verities? Is not your lifelike some secularised monastic chamber, with holy texts carved on the walls, and saintly images looking down from glowing windows on revellers and hucksters who defile its floors? Your faith, not your creed, determines your religion. Many a “true believer” is a real infidel. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Words and deeds
God is too wise to be put off with words; He turns up our leaves, and looks what fruit: whereof if He will, He lays down His basket and takes up His axe (Luke 13:7). (J. Trapp.)
Faith and works
Two gentlemen were one day crossing the river in a ferry-boat. A dispute about faith and works arose; one saying that good works were of small importance, and that faith was everything; the other asserting the contrary. Not being able to convince each other, the ferryman, an enlightened Christian, asked permission to give his opinion. Consent being granted, He said, “I hold in my hands two oars. That in my right hand I call ‘faith’; the other, in my left, ‘works.’ Now, gentlemen, please to observe, I pull the oar of faith, and pull that alone. See! the boat goes round and round, and the boat makes no progress. I do the same with the oar of works, and with a precisely similar result--no advance. Mark 1:1-41.1.45 I pull both together, we go on apace, and in a very few minutes we shall be at our landing-place. So, in my humble opinion,” he added, “faith without works, or works without faith, will not suffice. Let there be both, and the haven of eternal rest is sure to be reached.” As the flower is before the fruit, so is faith before good works. Faith is the parent of works, and the children will bear a resemblance to the parent. It is not enough that the inward works of a clock are well constructed, and also the dial-plate and hands; the one must act on the other, the works must regulate the movement of the hands. (Archbishop Whately.)
Doing better than talking
Two rival architects were once consulted for the building of a certain temple at Athens. The first harangued the crowd very learnedly upon the different orders of architecture, and showed them in what manner the temple should be built; the other, who got up after him, only observed that what his brother had spoken he could do--and thus he gained the cause.
Can faith save him?--
Faith more than creed
Men dwelling, as those Jews dwelt, in the midst of a heathen population, were tempted to trust for their salvation to their descent from Abraham, and to their maintaining the unity of the Godhead as against the Polytheism and idolatry of the nations. They repeated their creed, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It entered, as our creed does, into the morning and evening services of the synagogue, It was uttered by the dying as a passport to the gates of Paradise. It was to this that they referred the words of Habakkuk that the just should live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4). St. James saw, as the Baptist had seen before him; how destructive all this was of the reality of the spiritual life, and accordingly takes this as the next topic of his letter. (Dean Plumptre.)
It is not every faith that saves the soul. There may be a faith in a falsehood which leads only to delusion and ends in destruction. ’hen the Eddystone lighthouse was to be rebuilt, Winstanley, the noted engineer, contracted to rear a structure which should withstand the assaults of time and tempests. So confident was his faith in the showy structure of his own skill, that he offered to lodge in it, with the keeper, through the autumnal gales. He was true to his word. But the first tremendous tempest which caught the flimsy lighthouse in the hollow of its hand hurled both building and builder into the foaming sea. We fear that too many souls are rearing their hopes for eternity upon the sands of error; when the testing floods come and the winds beat upon their house, it will fall, and sad will be the fall thereof. There is a faith that saves; it puts us into immediate and vital union with the Son of God. Because He lives, we shall live also. When a human soul lets go of every other reliance in the wide universe, and hangs entirely upon what Jesus has done, and can do for him, then that soul “believes on Christ.” To Him the believer entrusts himself for guidance, for pardon, for strength, and for ultimate admission into the exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
1. Faith is a very simple process. Thanks be unto God that the most vital of all acts is as easily comprehended as a baby comprehends the idea of drawing nourishment from a mother’s breast and of falling asleep in a mother’s arms. Jesus propounds no riddle when He invites you and me to come to Him just as the blind beggar and the penitent harlot came.
2. Faith is not only a simple, it is a sensible act. Do you consider it a sensible thing to purchase a United States Bond? Yes; because it gives you a lien on all the resources of the great Republic. So the highest exercise of the reason is to trust what the Almighty God has said and to rely on what He has promised. Infidelity plays the idiot when it rejects God, and pays the penalty. Faith is wise unto its own salvation.
3. Faith is a stooping grace. That heart-broken, self-despising woman weeping on the feet of her Lord is a beautiful picture of its lowliness and submission. Self must go down first, before we can be lifted up into Christ’s favour and likeness. On the low grounds falls the fertilising rain of heaven; the bleak mountain tops are barren. God resisteth the proud and giveth His grace unto the lowly.
4. Faith is the strengthening grace. Through this channel flows in the power from on high. The impotent man had laid many a weary year by the pool of Bethesda. When Jesus inquired, “Wilt thou be made whole?” and his faith assented, the command came instantly, “Rise, take up flay bed and walk.” At once the man leaps up, and a helpless bundle of nerves and muscles receives strength sufficient to walk and to carry his couch. Faith links us to Omnipotence.
5. Finally, it is the grace which completely satisfies. When a hungry soul has found this food, the aching void is filled; “Lord, evermore give me this bread.” When the sting of guilt is taken away, and the load of condemnation is lifted off, then comes relief, rest, hope, joy, fellowship with the Divine. Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. Without this faith it is impossible to please God: when it is exercised and we come, and ally ourselves with our blessed, pardoning, life-giving Saviour, He, too, beholds the happy result of His work and is satisfied. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Be ye warmed and filled
Pretence of liberality
For a man to say to him, that hath purse penniless, body clotheless, scrip meatless, remaining harbourless,” Go get thee meat, go clothe thy back, go fill thy bag, go lodge thyself,” maketh show only of false liberality. If a surgeon say to the wounded person, “Get thee salve, and heal thyself,” yet giveth him neither salve nor plaster, nor anything whereby his sore may be healed, comforteth but slenderly. A physician bidding his cure and patient to wax strong, to recover health, to walk abroad, and yet applieth nothing, neither prescribeth anything whereby strength may be gotten, health recovered, former state restored, by bare words profiteth nothing, he that meeteth wayfaring man, far from all path or highway, wandering, and saith,” Go aright,” yet teacheth not which hand he must turn on, which way he must take, which path ha must follow, helpeth the strayer nothing towards his proposed journey. So to bid the hungry go fill his belly, and yet to give him nothing, is no charity; for the surgeon to persuade the wounded man to cure himself, teaching him whereby he may do it, is no pity; for the physician to exhort his patient to recover help and health, and prescribe not whereby the sickness may be repelled, and former state restored, is no remedy; to bid a man keep the right way, when he is altogether out, and not to set him in the path he must follow, is no courtesy. So-to say to the cold, “Go warm thee,” to the hungry, “Go feed yourselves,” is no compassion or mercy. Thus by this similitude the apostle showeth that that is no faith which is in words only, and not accompanied with works of charity. (R. Turnbull.)
Dr. Guthrie, in his autobiography, describes an odd character among his Scotch country parishioners at Arbirlot “who died as he lived, a curious mixture of benevolence and folly.” The lawyer who drew his will, after writing down several legacies of five hundred pounds to one person, a thousand to another, and so on, at last said, “But, Mr.
, I don’t believe you have all that money to leave.” “Oh!” was the reply, “I ken that as well as you; but I just want to show them my goodwill.”
This age aboundeth with mouth-mercy, which is good cheap. But a little handful were better than a great many such mouthfuls. (J. Trapp.)
“Be ye warmed.” But what with? With a fire of word. “Be filled.” But what with? With a mess of words. (J. Trapp.)
Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone
Works the true test of faith
It is a very important matter that we recognise right principles in relation to God and in relation to human life and duty; but it is still more important that the principles we recognise intellectually be embodied in actual conduct. However comprehensive the range of a man’s faith or credence, if he is no better in his life for it, then plainly it is of no saving value. As far as the practical issues of his faith go, he might as well be without it. “The devils believe”; yes, and remain devils. Here is a man who professes to believe in patriotism, who can discourse ably of the nobleness of living for one’s country and echo the loyal sentiments of patriot worthies; and yet he never studies one national question, and in time of national panic, suffering, or peril, he is the very last man to do one act of real patriotism. What is the value of his fine sentiments about devotion to Fatherland? Even so faith, if it hath no works, is dead, being alone. As food and light and air and warmth, and other elements of the material world, are assimilated with our physical organisation, promoting physical growth and strength and beauty, so the truth of God, relative to man’s character and life, is to be assimilated with our moral and spiritual being, producing in us moral and spiritual vigour and health and symmetry. If it is not so apprehended--if it does net dwell in us as a fashioning nutritive force and inspiration, coming out in our daily life, then we have not vitally apprehended it. Look at this a little in detail. The life and teachings of Christ are the true model and standard for human life. That is a truth to which general assent is given. And what are the moral qualities which He manifested? He was meek and lowly at heart; He was painstaking with the feeble and prejudiced; He had sympathy; He had heroism; He saw the good there was in human nature, and sought to expand it. His was a Spirit of holy zeal; His was a Spirit of self-sacrifice. And His teachings harmonise with Himself. They bear the same heavenly stamp upon them. “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” “Love your enemies”: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Now look out upon every-day life. Are Christ and His teachings copied and obeyed with loving and willing obedience by those who profess to recognise and revere them? That is the vital point. If, after the duties of the day, you who admit Christ to be your example, were to be asked, “Have you taken Him as your model to-day in the practical concerns of life? Have you dealt with your fellow-men as He would deal with them? Have you bought and sold as you can suppose He would buy and sell? Have you kept your motives pure, as you know He would keep His motives pure? Have you regulated your thoughts and feelings as He would regulate His?” It is very possible to have Christ in our creed--to believe in Him as an historic personage; to believe that He came forth from the Father; to give earnest thought to the mastery of His unparalleled teachings, and yet be sadly wanting in heart-homage and devotedness to Him. One little living act of obedience outweighs in value all a man’s mere philosophising and intellectual credence. Christ demands actual doing (Matthew 7:21). The future life is another truth to which general assent is given. This life is not all. It is, in relation to the magnitude and scope of our existence, but as the portal to the edifice. The life we live here is chequered and transitory, but that which is to come is everlasting. Now, the true life in relation to that great future is one of anticipation and earnest spiritual preparation. If we truly realised our citizenship to be yonder, we could not but be aliens here. Can the swallow love the frost and snow and leaden skies of our winter? Can the home-sick emigrant; forget the mother-country whence he came out? Can the man of refined taste and cultured mind be content amidst squalor and ignorance? Can the truehearted mother be at rest while the wail of her babe in distress summons her to its cot? And if we have souls that know that their true mother-country is in a summer clime: that have been breathed into by the quickening Spirit of God, there will instinctively be a sense of alienship here; a patient waiting there may be, still a waiting for the redemption which draweth nigh. Now, what does a man’s faith in the future do for him? What fruit does faith in immortality bear upon its branches? or, like the fig-tree which Christ cursed, has it nothing but leaves? The moral accountability of man to God is another generally accepted truth. Now what kind of life does a man’s faith in tills truth develop? That is the great question. Is it society, or is it God that he has chiefly before him, in what he is and does? Consider this in reference to the motives. Are they pure? In our intercourse with each other, very often only the actions are seen; the motives are hidden away in the secret chamber of a man’s own breast. But the Lord looketh on the heart. Now, does the faith which we have in God as the Judge, who looketh down into the springs of action, make us careful to purify and rightly regulate the secret and interior life? What does faith do? Now, the faith that leads to works is just what men often lack. There are several things that are secondary, which are commonly elevated into substitutes and equivalents for obedience. Men are losing sight of the real end of life--right doing and being--and resting in these lower and intermediate stages. Some rest in a correct theology. They have true and lofty principles in their creed; but--but they keep them in that form. They are not expounded into living blossom and fruit. There is another class whose aim it is to be happy. The end of a Christian life is gained, they imagine, when they are able to glow with gladsome emotions. But your emotions are only worth anything as they inspire to right action. That is their purpose--to make us strong for obedience. Another class rest in the observance of ordinances and religious ceremonies. Churches and ordinances and Sabbath-days are intended simply to be helps. And as means of grace they are indispensable. But the means are often elevated into an end of themselves, and many a man reckons he has been religious when he has only been gathering inspiration for religion. In such externalisms do men rest, and the solemn, noble path of obedience lies before them untrodden. Can a faith that does not carry them beyond these things, that does not stir them up to any self-denials, any active form of goodness, any culture of a right manhood, save them? What the better is any one for believing in God if in his life he is practically atheistic? What does it matter that a man believes in the love of God in Christ, if there is no response of love in his own heart? What is the profit of a man every day reading his Bible, with faith in its inspiration, if he goes forth into the world forgetting all its teachings? What is the moral worth of any sort of intellectual credence that leaves the life barren of good works? Can such faith save? (T. Hammond.)
A living faith
Believing that Jesus is the Son of God, yet not to imitate His character, not to follow His precepts, not to conform to His commands, is no more acceptable faith than to speak kind words to a neighbour, and not assist his wants is acceptable and satisfactory love. Suppose, therefore, a person to profess dependence on Christ Jesus--to profess, that is, that he knows the corruption of his heart, the infirmity of his faith, and consequently, that he trusts not to his own righteousness, but to the atonement made on the Cross for the unrighteous; supposing this, we say, these are excellent words, they represent the state of the Christian’s mind; But still St. James is aware how prone a man’s heart is to deceive him; and knowing this, he requires a proof of this dread of God’s wrath, this hatred of sin, this love of Christ in delivering us from sin. “Thou hast faith”; thou professest to believe in Christ; I would not doubt your profession, or deny that your belief; but examine yourself, prove your own soul; let me witness a proof of your faith in your life and practice; how else can it be known?” Show me thy faith without thy worlds.” Thou canst not; it is impossible. Thou canst not show it except by works, for faith is hidden in the heart; it cannot be seen of itself--it can be only judged of by its effects. It is like the life which animates the body; we cannot see it, we cannot tell what it depends on; but this we know, if the principle of life be sound and healthy, the man will breathe with freedom and move with ease. So, if there be sound and acceptable faith, though it lie deep in the recesses of the heart, its existence there will be evident; it will freely breathe in piety towards God--it will actively work in charity towards men. Here, then, is the reason why St. James requires us to show our faith by our works; because there can be no other proof of our having that faith at all, which will avail us in the sight of God. There may be a belief in Christ which the mind cannot resist, because the evidence of the Christian revelation is too strong to be set aside; there may be a belief in Christ which grows out of our birth and education, which we receive, like our language, from the country in which we are born; more than this, there may be a belief in Christ strong enough to disturb our conscience, and yet, it is to be feared, “a savour of death “rather than life, because it is a body without a spirit. It is not strong enough to quicken the soul with a new and vital principle--not powerful enough to “crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts”--not powerful enough to raise the heart from things below to things above, so that it shall “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and “have its treasure in heaven.” And all this is done, and must be done, by that faith which does justify a man in the sight of God. Such faith rests, indeed, upon historical truth; but it is much more than the belief of an historical fact: such faith is much more than national, though it rejoices in knowing that God hath chosen the country to which we belong as one to which His saving truth should be made known; such faith is not intellectual only, though it approves itself to the judgment of the renewed mind; such faith is not dead or inactive, but lively and energetic; it inspires laborious exertion; it breathes in love to God and man; it breaks forth in spiritual desires; it refreshes itself by spiritual meditation; it dreads what God’s Word condemns--it approves what God’s Word approves; it contends against the indwelling principle of sin--it aspires after the perfection of holiness, complete participation of the Divine nature. (Abp. Sumner.)
Faith shown by works
I had the privilege of opening a beautiful country church some years since in a neighbourhood surrounded almost entirely with infidels. The preacher directed my attention to a tall, vigorous man in the congregation, and said be would give me his history when the service was over. He was, it seems, a violent, passionate, close-fisted man. Not a farthing could anybody get out of him for the salvation of souls or for the elevation of humanity. “A few months ago,” said the minister, “he gave his heart to Jesus. The infidels in the community said, ‘Wait a little while; touch his pocket, and you will see where his religion is.’ Presently,” continued my friend, “I came to him with a subscription paper, and spoke of the difficulties and embarrassments under which we laboured in the neighbourhood, for want of a church. ‘Well,’ said the man, ‘let us build a church.’ ‘What will you give us?’ inquired the preacher. ‘ Fifty pounds,’ was the prompt reply; and the minister passed through the community with the subscription paper, at the head of which was this amount, written in the gentleman’s own handwriting, which surprised everybody. A few days afterwards the most trying circumstance of his life occurred, His dear wife trembled for him. ‘Oh, my husband!’ she exclaimed, ‘don’t go.’ His reply way, ‘I must go; my duty calls me there. I am perfectly cool and collected, I shall become excited, but I will not say a word, or do a thing out of the way.’ He passed through the fiery ordeal without the least taint of anger upon him. The community then said, ‘Surely there is something in this. You have reached his pocket, you have conquered his anger, and you have subtitled the man. There is power in the gospel of Christ.’ “A few weeks after my visit there I received the sad intelligence that that gentleman had been buried. He had gone out into the forest, and, unfortunately, a tree fell on him and crushed him to the earth, and yet did not entirely destroy him. They carried him to the house, and sent for a physician and the minister. He calmly asked for the Bible, and read in a clear voice a chapter in St. John’s Gospel. After shutting the Bible he closed his hands upon his breast; “and such a prayer,” said my ministerial brother, “I never heard from mortal lip” for his wife, for his children, for his pastor, for the Church, and for his infidel friends. In a moment or two, after saying ‘Amen,’ he closed his eyes and sweetly fell asleep in Jesus. The infidels said, ‘There is something in religion.’ “A few weeks since I met with that good pastor again. I inquired about his infidel neighbours, and he replied, “All of them but one are happily converted to God.” (The Church.)
I will show thee my faith by my works
Scriptural evidence of saving faith
The mode of instruction here proposed is the philosophical method of Scripture. It is to develop the character of faith by the test of experiment. It gives us the most vivid impressions of a genuine faith; it shows us what it is by its works.
I. SOME OF THE OPERATIONS OF FAITH IN VARIOUS SITUATIONS FITTED TO BRING OUT ITS NATURE.
II. SOME OF ITS LEADING CHARACTERISTICS.
1. It is a belief in Divine testimony respecting unseen things, with corresponding affections, purposes, and actions.
2. Faith is a reasonable thing. It is the perfection of reason to believe, not this false world, not the father of lies, but God; and especially to believe Him on subjects of too large grasp for our puny minds, and quite beyond the range of our senses, not excepting His declarations on the high mysteries of the Trinity and the atonement of His well-beloved Son.
3. Faith is bold and unbending. It gives inflexibility of purpose and action--not from obstinacy, ambition, or other unworthy motive--but simplybecause it rests on immutable truth.
4. Faith is very powerful. We have seen the proof, not in abstract reasoning, but in facts--in its actual works, exhibited by sundry devoted servants of God. Here is not theory, but experiment. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
5. Another attribute of faith is sublimity. The scene spread out before its e) e, how vast! how boundless! even the whole circle of revealed truth.
6. Another obvious characteristic of faith is its moral excellence. Learn--
1. Its Divine origin.
2. Saving faith is the same in every age and nation.
3. Some of the victories which faith is called to achieve at the present day, and in the future. (C. Yale.)
The connection between faith and works
I. TRUE FAITH IS VISIBLE. The objects of faith indeed are invisible; an unseen God, an unseen Saviour, and an unseen world; but faith itself is not so; it is something that may be seen. It may not be so at all times, or in an equal degree; for as clouds are about the Divine throne, so they sometimes encompass the Christian, and hide his graces from himself and the view of others. Yet it is at all times visible to Him Whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and knows them that are His and them that are not so. He can see it, though the rank weed of unbelief growing by which overshadows it, spoils its beauty, and hinders its growth. Genuine faith produces such a change in the disposition and conduct that it may be seen.
II. TRUE FAITH IS MADE VISIBLE BY ITS FRUITS. Those who partake of the benefits of Christ’s death will imitate the virtues of His life: and as they hope to be with Him in heaven, so they will endeavour to be like Him on earth. This only will prove the truth of our own religion, and recommend it to others; for it is not by thinking right, but doing well, that we are to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Neither the amiableness of our disposition, nor discernment into the mysteries of the gospel, nor flaming zeal, nor strict regard to modes of worship, though of Divine institution, will prove the reality of our religion without a sanctified heart and a holy 1 Corinthians 13:1-46.13.3).
1. We may observe, though works are distinct from faith, so distinct that they are frequently opposed to it, yet they always accompany it as the proper fruit and effect of saving faith, like water from the fountain, or light from the sun.
2. As good works are the concomitants, so also the touchstone of faith, and the rule by which we are to judge of its being genuine.
3. The truth of these propositions is confirmed by the examples which the apostle adduces.
III. THOSE WHO PRETEND TO FAITH, AND YET ARE DESTITUTE OF GOOD WORKS, ARE AWFULLY DECEIVED. Such will one day be the scorn of men and angels, and even of God Himself. If the heart be unhumbled and the life unholy, duties neglected and corruptions unsubdued, our faith is a mere pretence, and our hope is all a delusion. That faith which leaves a man where it finds him, as much attached to the world and under the power of sin and Satan as before, is no faith at all. Hence we may learn--
1. It is as impious to deny the utility and necessity of good works as it is to ascribe merit to them. They are the way to the kingdom, as one said, though not the cause of reigning.
2. All works performed before faith, or while in a state of unbelief, are no better than dead works, and cannot be acceptable with God. Works do not give value to faith, but it is faith that makes works acceptable; it is the tree that makes the fruit good, and not the fruit that makes the tree good. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
A working faith necessary
If a man would have an evidence that the sun hath just risen within our hemisphere, though it be not within his view as yet, he will see it better by looking west than by looking east; for, before he can see the body of the sun, he may see the light of it shining upon some high tower or mountain; and so by looking west he will see the sun has risen, or is rising in the east. So, when the world would have an evidence of your being a believer, they will not look to your faith, but to your works, and the rays and beams that flow from faith. And to look towards your works is to look away quite contrary to your faith; for as faith and works are contrary in the matter of justification, so faith renounces all works in point of dependence, though it produces them in point of performance. Therefore, seeing the world will not look to your heart, which they cannot see, but to your life, and will not look to your faith, which God only sees, but to your works which the world may see; Oh, take care that it be a working faith: “Show me thy faith by thy works.” (R. Erskine.)
If a man offer me the root of a tree to taste, I cannot say, this is such a pear, or apple, or plum; but if I see the fruit I can. If a man pretend faith to me, I must say to him, with St. James, can his faith save him? such a faith as that the apostle declares himself to mean--a dead faith--as all faith is that is inoperative and works not. But if I see his works I proceed the right way in judicature--I judge according to my evidence, and if any man will say, those works may be hypocritical, I may say of my witness, he may be perjured; but as long as I have no particular cause to think so, it is good evidence to me as to hear that man’s oath, so to see this man’s works. (J. Donne.)
Doctrine and practice
A prelate, since deceased, was present whose views were not favourable to the doctrine of Election. “My lord,” said he, addressing the archbishop, “it appears to me that the young clergy of the present day are more anxious to teach the people high doctrine than to enforce those practical duties which are so much required.” “I have no objection,” said His Grace, “to high doctrine if high practice be also insisted upon; otherwise it must, of course, be injurious.” (Life of Archbishop Whately.)
Faith and works
St. James’ sign is the best: “Show me thy faith by thy works.” Faith makes the merchant diligent and venturous, and that makes him rich. Ferdinando of Arragon believed the story told him by Columbus, and therefore he furnished him with ships, and got the West Indies by his faith in the undertaker. But Henry VII. of England believed him not, and therefore trusted him not with shipping, and lost all the purchase of that faith. (Jeremy Taylor, D. D.)
Faith a nerve-centre
Saving faith is the nodus or ganglion, or nerve-centre, so to speak, where the most vital lines of force converge; the point whence radiate, as from the golden milestone in the Roman Forum, roads of influence and command to the utmost extremities of the empire of the soul. (Robt. Whyte, D. D.)
Luther’s view of faith
Justifying faith according to Luther was not human assent, but a powerful, vivifying thing, which immediately works a change in the man, and makes him a new creature, and leads him to an entirely new and altered mode of life and conduct. (Proctor’s Gems of Thought.)
Faith and works
It appeared by the fruits it was a good land Numbers 13:23). It appeared that Dorcas was a true believer by the coats she had made. (J. Trapp.)
Believing and working
A bishop of the Episcopal Church says, “When
I was about entering the ministry, I was one day in conversation with an old Christian friend, who said, “You are to be ordained; when you are ordained, preach to sinners as you find them; tell them to believe in the
Lord Jesus Christ, and they shall be as safe as if they were in heaven; and then tell them to work like horses.”
Faith and its manifestation
We are surely not despising fruits and flowers when we insist open the root from which they shall come. A. man may take separate acts of partial goodness, as you see children in the spring-time sticking daisies on the spikes of a thorn-twig picked from the hedges. But these will die. The basis of all righteousness is faith, and the manifestation of faith is practical righteousness. “Show Me thy faith by thy works” is Christ’s teaching, quite as much as it is the teaching of His sturdy servant, James. And so we are going the shortest way to enrich lives with all the beauties of possible human perfection when we say, Begin at the beginning. The longest way round is the shortest way home; trust Him with all your heart first, and that will effloresce into whatsoever things are lovely and of good report. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
On the existence of a Deity
The fundamental article of Christian belief is the existence of the one only living and true God. Unless this fundamental principle be admitted, there can be no such thing as personal accountableness--no such thing as either religion or morality in the world.
I. First, then, we call your attention to the infallible proofs by which we evince THE EXISTENCE OF GOD.
1. And first, we appeal to the works of God, in creation and in Providence.
2. I refer you, secondly, for proof to the Word of God, or that inspired testimony which He has granted of His mind and will.
3. This truth may be further evinced by a distinct consideration of the human structure, both in body and in mind.
4. We evince the existence of God from the consent of all nations, from the earliest period of time, in all habitable parts of the universe, down to the present hour.
5. I have only one more evidence to produce, which is this: that even Satan himself, who is the father of lies, never yet ventured to impugn the great truth for which I am contending.
II. Now, secondly, let me inquire WHAT WE BELIEVE CONCERNING THIS GOD, whose being is indubitably certain.
1. First we believe that God is one.
2. Secondly, we are taught to believe that God exists in a mode altogether unsearchable and incomprehensible; so that in the simple and undivided essence there are three distinguishable subsistences--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
3. Again, we believe that this God is a Being of all possible excellence, and of infinite glory and blessedness; infinitely good and infinitely great; of unsearchable wisdom, of inviolable truth, of immaculate purity, of exhaustless patience, of unbending equity, of incomparable benignity, and of boundless love.
4. We believe in the relations which this high and holy God sustains towards the human family. I must believe not only what God is, but what God is to me; and therefore say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty.” I believe in Him as the creating Father; as the preserving Father, whose “tender mercies are over all His works.” As the redeeming Father, as the governing Father.
III. THE CHARACTER AND INFLUENCE OF THAT BELIEF in the being of a God whenever it is sincere.
1. This belief must be personal.
2. This faith must be the result of knowledge, discernment, and conviction.
3. This faith must be fiducial and filial. It must be associated with complacency, love, trust--yes, and appropriation too.
4. Once more, this faith must be practical. It must issue in devotion, worship, communion, fellowship, holy fear of God, a cautious avoidance of all that will displease Him, and a conscientious performance of all that will be acceptable in His sight. It must be discovered by patient submission, and by an earnest desire after the present and everlasting enjoyment of Him as the supreme and all-satisfying Good.
1. I infer from this subject the folly and criminality of doubting and denying the existence of a God.
2. In the next place, we may infer the paramount duty of extending the knowledge of God, and promoting faith in His being, and government, and laws.
3. Finally, we infer the happiness of those who have the prospect of seeing God face to face, and enjoying Him as the supreme Good through eternal ages; to have the mind fixed upon Him, absorbed in Him, for ever serving and enjoying Him as the ultimate happiness! (G. Clayton, M. A.)
The devils also believe, and tremble
The faith of Christians contrasted in its results with the faith of fallen spirits
I. THEY ARE ENGAGED IN A COMMON WORK. Both are believers, Neither Christians nor devils are sceptics. The Christian believes in an unseen Saviour. Devils believe in that which is the foundation of all truth, that there is “one God.” The Bible also teaches that they believe in many other things common to our creed; such as the Divinity of Christ and the approaching of a terrible retribution.
II. THEIR COMMON WORK PRODUCES OPPOSITE PERSONAL RESULTS.
1. The faith of Christians produces great mental happiness.
2. The faith of devils produces great mental misery.
(1) Remorse for the past.
(2) Apprehension for the future.
III. THE CAUSE OF THIS GREAT DIFFERENCE IN THE PERSONAL RESULTS OF FAITH. The two classes occupy different standpoints in relation to truth. Lessons:
1. Both the happiness and misery of spiritual existences are independent of material circumstances.
2. Faith in moral truth, in all worlds, must always have an influence on the emotions.
3. The faith in Divine truth which is to save must be exercised now.
4. Spiritual happiness here is the great evidence of personal Christianity.
5. Heaven and hell are mental realities. (D. Thomas.)
Faith and emotion
(1 Peter 1:8)
Why believing should in one case produce “joy unspeakable,” and in another convulse the spirit with paroxysms of agony.
I. THE OBJECT OF FAITH IS THE SAME IN BOTH CASES. That Object is God--God as the Creator, Sustainer, and Saviour. Christians, while contemplating God, grow glad in His presence; their faith rises into rapture, “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” But what of the devils? They gaze on the same object, but no cheering light flashes on their woe-worn countenance.
II. IN BOTH CASES THERE IS A KNOWLEDGE OF HISTORICAL FACTS. There is one marked difference, however, in this historic knowledge--viz., the Christian has read the history, but the devil has lived it! Startling is the reflection that Satan has been the contemporary of all ages! What, then, is the result of the Satanic knowledge? Does knowledge inspire joy? Nay! As Satan stands in the solemn temple of history, he trembles under the remorseless tyranny of self-condemnation!
III. IN BOTH CASES THERE IS A BELIEF IN DIVINE FAITHFULNESS. Satan never knew an instance in which the Divine faithfulness had failed! The Divine unchangeableness is a cause of terror to lost spirits. Hath God spoken, and shall He not perform? Can any suggest to Omniscience an idea which might reverse His purposes? The Divine immutability is, on the contrary, the source of the Christian’s most rapturous joy! The Christian knows nothing of the suspense which fickleness would have occasioned, and which is so fatal to calmness and rapture; he rests his head on the assurances of the eternal.
IV. It still remains to be known why “believing” should be attended with results so diverse. We submit that the secret is this, viz., IN THE CASE OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS ACCOMPANIED BY HOPE, WHEREAS IN THE CASE OF SATAN IT IS ASSOCIATED WITH UTTER HOPELESSNESS. Having cleared our way thus far, we are in a position to do two things, viz
1. To remove certain practical errors, and--
2. To explain the nature of the faith which produces “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
1. We now see that faith is not a mere intellectual exercise.
2. That faith is not a mere credence of Divine facts.
3. That faith is not a mere belief in Divine predictions. What, then, is the true faith? The faith which produces joy is the trust and confidence of the heart in the atonement and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ! It is easy to see the bearing of this argument on all efforts for the evangelisation of humanity.
Let me remind you of three facts:
1. That on earth alone can joy-producing faith be exercised.
2. That the propagation of this faith is entrusted to human instrumentality.
3. That we are responsible for the propagation of this faith up to the extent of our capability. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Conviction not conversion
Faith begins in conviction, and there are many who halt at this stage. They have heard the evidence, examined it, and are clearly, fully persuaded of its truth. But they never get beyond that. They are like a neap-tide as you have seen it rolling in from the sea. It comes with a demonstrative rush as though it would carry everything before it, but when it reaches a certain point there it stops, and with all the ocean at its back it does not exceed the mark where it is accustomed to pause. It is possible to reach the half-way point of conviction and not be saved. Sir Noel Paton received a chrysalis as a specimen to paint in a picture. It served the purpose, was wrapped in cotton, placed in a small tin box, put by in a cabinet, and forgotten. The spring time came, summer and autumn followed with more than wonted splendour, and again it was winter, when, while Sir Noel was looking for something else, his eyes fell upon the small tin box. He opened it and found, not the chrysalis, but a dead butterfly--one beautiful wing outstretched against the polished metal, the other partially developed and still entangled among the cotton. The chrysalis had burst into a half-formed butterfly and perished. So a soul may arrive at the half-way point of a full surrender, and yet perish short of it. “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.”
Will; thou know, O vain man
Inconsideration and ignorance
1. From that “Wilt thou know?” Presumers are either ignorant or inconsiderate. False and mistaken faith is usually a brat of darkness: either men do not understand what faith is, or do not consider what they do.
2. From that “O vain or empty man.” Temporaries are but vain men; like empty vessels, full of wind, and make the greatest sound; they are full of windy presumptions and boasting professions.
(1) Full of wind, they have a little airy knowledge, such as puffeth 2 Peter 1:8).
(2) Of a great sound and noise; can talk of grace, boast of knowledge, glory in their faith. A vain faith and a vain man are oft suited and matched.
3. Hypocrites must be roused with some asperity and sharpness. So the apostle, “O vain man”; so Christ, “O ye foolish and blind”; so John the Baptist, “O ye generation of vipers.” Hypocrites are usually inconsiderate, and of a sleepy conscience, so that we must not whisper, but cry aloud.
4. An empty barren faith is a dead faith.
(1) Because it may stand with a natural state, in which we are “dead in trespasses and sins.”
(2) Because it receiveth not the quickening influences of the Spirit.
(3) Because it wanteth the effect of life, which is operation; all life is the beginning of operation, tendeth to operation, and is increased by operation; so faith is dead, like a root of a tree in the ground, when it cannot produce the ordinary effects and fruits of faith.
(4) Because unavailable to eternal life, of no more use and service to you than a dead thing. Oh! pluck it off; who would suffer a dead plant in his garden? “Why cumbereth it the ground?” (Luke 13:7). (T. Manton.)
The Greek adjective is almost literally the equivalent of our “empty-headed” as a term of contempt. It answers clearly to the “Raca” of Matthew 5:22. (Dean Plumptre.)
empty-handed, and empty-hearted. Empty-headed, in being so deluded as to suppose that a dead faith can save; empty-handed, in being devoid of true spiritual riches; emptyhearted, in having no real love either for God or man. (A. Plummer, D. D.)
Faith and works
If I see fruit growing upon a tree, I know what tree it is upon which such fruit grows. And so if I see how a man lives, I know how he believes. (Bp. Beveridge.)
A barren faith
(see R. V.)
Faith is the mother who gives birth to the virtues as her children. (M. Luther.)
Abraham … Justified by works
Abraham’s faith and privileges
I. THOSE WHO WOULD HAVE ABRAHAM’S PRIVILEGES JUST LOOK TO IT THAT THEY HAVE ABRAHAM’S FAITH. He--
1. Received the promises with all humility.
2. Improved them with much fidelity.
II. BELIEVERS MUST SEE THAT THEY HONOUR AND JUSTIFY THEIR FAITH BY WORKS. They must--
1. Be loyal to Christ.
2. Work with a spirit suiting the gospel.
3. Be prudent.
4. Be thankful.
III. SERIOUS PURPOSES OF OBEDIENCE ARE ACCEPTED FOR OBEDIENCE.
IV. FAITH IS NOT GENUINE UNLESS IT PRODUCES SUCH ACTIONS AS ABRAHAM’S. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Faith perfected by works
Our natural disposition with regard to spiritual exercises is a compound of indolence, coldness, and faintheartedness; therefore we need continually to be stirred up, chafed, and animated by the Word of God and by prayer. As water, though naturally cold, admits of a high degree of heat, but if removed from the fire will gradually become cold again, so our religious affections, to whatever fervour, liveliness, and vigour they may have been raised, will, if not kept awake and recruited by fresh matter, insensibly abate into lukewarmness and even coldness. Though there still be latent spiritual life, its glow is only kept up by active stirring. Hence St. James says, that “through works is faith made perfect,” that is, through the perpetual activity and stir of practical devotion. (J. A. Bengel.)
The Friend of God
The friendship of God
I. THE FRIENDSHIP OF GOD IS CONNECTED WITH THE RICHEST COMMUNICATIONS OF PEACE AND SPIRITUAL COMFORT.
1. The consciousness that we are reconciled to the Most High, and have in Him a Father and a Friend, sheds over the mind a tranquillity which excels the excitement of worldly joy.
2. The knowledge of God supplies to the devout mind topics on which it loves to dwell, and which call forth into active exercise its purest and best emotions.
3. The imitation of the Divine character gives to the mind the lofty pleasures of benevolent feeling and action.
II. THE FRIENDSHIP OF GOD INVOLVES THE ASSURANCE OF SUCCOUR INSEASONS OF PERPLEXITY AND DANGER. His power, knowledge, wisdom, are without limit, and His ever-wakeful eye marks the interests of all who trust in Him.
III. THE FRIENDSHIP OF GOD ASSURES US THAT ALL THE OCCURRENCES OF LIFE, HOWEVER VARIED AND PERPLEXING, SHALL CONTRIBUTE TO AN
ULTIMATE WELFARE. Afflictions themselves are part of God’s wise and gracious discipline--evidences, not of anger, but of love.
IV. THE FRIENDSHIP OF GOD WILL BE THE PORTION OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT, WHEN THE SCENES OF MORTALITY ARE OVER. (Homilist.)
The highest friendship
The only true friendship is that spoken of here. In order to attain it, there must be--
I. PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE.
3. Difficult to acquire.
3. Founded on faith.
III. UNINTERRUPTED INTERCOURSE.
1. Sameness of interests.
2. Personal communication.
3. Loving devotion. (Homilist.)
The Friend of God
I. How GOD MANIFESTED HIS FRIENDSHIP TO ABRAHAM.
1. By His love.
2. By His sympathy.
3. By His care.
II. How ABRAHAM MANIFESTED HIS FRIENDSHIP TO GOD.
1. By confidence.
2. By communion.
3. By zeal and obedience. (G. Brooks.)
The Friend of God
Abraham was called the Friend of God because he was so. The title only declares a fact. The Father of the faithful was beyond all men “the Friend of God,” and the head of that chosen race of believers whom Jesus calls His friends. James says not only that this was Abraham’s name, but that he was called by it. Among the Jewish people Abraham was frequently spoken of as “the Friend of Goal.” At this present moment, among the Arabs and other Mahommedans, the name of Abraham is not often mentioned, but they speak of him as Khalil Allah, or the “Friend of God,” or more briefly as of Khalil, “the Friend.” It is a noble title, not to be equalled by all the names of greatness which have been bestowed by princes, even if they should all meet in one. Patents of nobility are mere vanity when laid side by side with this transcendent honour. I think I hear you say, “Yes, it was indeed a high degree to which Abraham reached: so high that we cannot attain unto it.” We also may be called friends of God. Jesus Himself invites us to live and act, and be His friends. Surely, none of us will neglect any gracious attainment which lies within the region of the possible. None of us will be content with a scanty measure of grace, when we may have life more abundantly. The other day there lauded on the shores of France a boatful of people sodden with rain and salt-water; they had lost all their luggage, and had nothing but what they stood upright in: they were glad, indeed, to have been saved from a wreck. It was well that they landed at all; but when it is my lot again to cross to France, I trust I shall put my foot on shore in a better plight than that. I would prefer to cross the Channel in comfort, and land with pleasure. There is all this difference between being “saved so as by fire,” and having “an abundant entrance ministered unto us “into the kingdom. Let us enjoy heaven on the road to heaven. Why not? Aspire after the best gifts. Grow in grace. Increase in love to God, and in nearness of access to Him, that the Lord may at this good hour stoop down to us as our great Friend, and then lift us up to be known as His friends.
I. Look at the name, “Friend of God,” and regard it as A TITLE TO BE WONDERED AT.
1. Admire and adore the condescending God who thus speaks of a man like ourselves, and calls him His friend. The heavens are not pure in His sight, and He charged His angels with folly, and yet He takes a man and sets him apart to be His friend. In this case the august Friend displays His pure love, since He has nothing to gain. You and I need friendship: we cannot always lead a self-contained and solitary life; we are refreshed by the companionship, sympathy, and advice of a like-minded comrade. No such necessity can be supposed of the All-sufficient God. We know how sweet it is to mingle the current of our life with that of some choice bosom friend.
Can God have a friend? It cannot be that He is solitary: He is within Himself a whole, not only of unity, but of tri-personality--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--and herein is fellowship enough. Yet, behold, in infinite condescension the Lord deigns to seek the acquaintance of His own creature, the love of man, the friendship of Abraham. Friendship cannot be all on one side. In this particular instance it is intended that we should know that while God was Abraham’s Friend, this was not all; but Abraham was God’s friend. He received and returned the friendship of God. Friendship creates a measure of equality between the persons concerned. When we say of two men that they are friends, we put them down in the same list; but what condescension on the Lord’s part to be on terms of friendship with a man! Again, I say, no nobility is comparable to this. Parmenio was a great general, but all his fame in that direction is forgotten in the fact that he was known as the friend of Alexander. He had a great love for Alexander as a man, whereas others only cared for him as a conqueror and a monarch; and Alexander, perceiving this, placed great reliance upon Parmenio. Abraham loved God for God’s sake, and followed Him fully, and so the Lord made him His confidant, and found pleasure in manifesting Himself to him, and in trusting to him His sacred oracles. O Lord, how excellent is Thy lovingkindness, that Thou shouldest make a man Thy friend!
2. I want you also to note the singular excellence of Abraham. How could he have been God’s friend had not grace wrought wonderfully in him? A man is known through his friends: you cannot help judging a person by his companions. Was it not a great venture for God to call any man His friend? for we are led to judge the character of God by the character of the man whom He selects to be His friend. Yes; and, though a man with like passions with us, and subject to weaknesses which the Holy Spirit has not hesitated to record, yet Abraham was a singularly admirable character. The Spirit of God produced in him a deep sincerity, a firm principle, and a noble bearing.
3. Follow me while I note some of the points in which this Divine friendship showed itself.
(1) The Lord often visited Abraham (Genesis 15:11; Genesis 17:1; Genesis 18:1, etc.).
(2) In consequence of these visits of friendship paid to Abraham, secrets were disclosed (Genesis 15:13-1.15.16; Genesis 17:16-1.17.21; Genesis 18:17-1.18.19). Abraham, on his part, had no secrets, but laid bare his heart to the inspection of his
Divine Friend. Visits were received, and secrets were made known, and thus friendship grew.
(3) More than that, compacts were entered into. On certain grand occasions we read: “The Lord made a covenant with Abram.” Once with solemn sacrifice a light passed between the divided portions of the victims. At another time it is written that God sware by Himself, saying, “Surely, blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.” The two friends grasped hands, and pledged their troth.
(4) This friendship resulted in the bestowal of innumerable benefits. The life of Abraham was rich with mercies. He was singularly favoured in all things to which he set his hand. The Lord is a Friend who can never know a limit in blessing His friends. Having loved His own He loves them to the end. To Abraham through-the grace of his Divine Friend difficulties were blessings, trials were blessings, and the sharpest test of all was the most ennobling blessing.
(5) Since Abraham was God’s friend, God accepted his pleadings, and was moved by his influence. Friends ever have an ear for friends. When Abraham pleaded with God for Sodom, the Lord patiently hearkened to his renewed pleadings. Lot was rescued, and Zoar was spared, in answer to that prayer; just as Ishmael had been endowed with earthly blessings in response to the pleading, “O that Ishmael might live before Thee!” and just as the household of Abimelech had been healed in answer to Abraham’s supplication.
(6) There was also between these friends a mutual love and delight. Abraham rejoiced in Jehovah! He was his shield, and his exceeding great reward, and the Lord Himself delighted to commune with Abraham.
(7) Observe, too, that this friendship was maintained with great constancy. The Lord never forsook Abraham: even when the patriarch erred, the Lord remembered and rescued him. He did not cast him off in old age. Constancy is also seen on the human side of this renowned friendship: Abraham did not turn aside to worship any false God.
(8) More than that, the Lord kept His friendship to Abraham by favouring his posterity. The Lord styled Israel, even rebellious Israel, “The seed of Abraham My friend” (Isaiah 41:8).
II. Now notice THE TITLE VINDICATED. Abraham was the Friend of God in a truthful sense. There was great propriety and fulness of meaning in the name as applied to him.
1. Abraham’s trust in God was implicit. Bathing his forehead in the sunlight of Jehovah’s love he dwelt beyond all questions and mistrusts. Oh, happy man, to know no scepticisms, but heroically to believe! He was a perfect child towards God, and therefore a complete man.
2. Next, there was joined to this implicit trust a practical confidence as to the accomplishment of everything that God had promised. Faith is to credit contradictions, and to believe impossibilities, when Jehovah’s word is to the front. If you and I can do this, then we can enter into friendship with God, but not else; for distrust is the death of friendship.
3. Next to this, Abraham’s obedience to God was unquestioning. Whatever God bade him do, he did it promptly and thoroughly. He was God’s servant and yet His friend; therefore he obeyed as seeing Him that is invisible, and trusting Him whom he could not understand.
4. Abraham’s desire for God’s glory was uppermost at all times. He did not what others would have done, because he feared the Lord. He did not want that a petty princeling, or indeed anybody, should boast of enriching Abraham: he trusted solely in his God, and though he had a perfect right to have taken the spoils of war which were his by capture, yet he would not touch them lest the name of his God should be in the least dishonoured Genesis 14:22-1.14.24).
5. Abraham’s communion with God was constant. Oh, happy man, that dwelt on high while men were grovelling at his feet! Oh, that you and I may be cleansed to such a pure, holy, and noble life that we, too, may be rightly called the Friends of God!
III. Regard this name as THE TITLE TO BE SOUGHT AFTER. Oh, that we may get to ourselves this good degree, this diploma, as “Friend of God”! Do you wish to be a friend of God?
1. Well, then, you must be fully reconciled to Him. Love must be created in your heart; gratitude must beget attachment, and attachment must cause delight. You must rejoice in the Lord, and maintain close intercourse with Him.
2. To be friends, we must exercise a mutual choice: the God who has chosen you must be chosen by you. Most deliberately, heartily, resolutely, undividedly, you must choose God to be your God and your Friend. But you have not gone far enough yet.
3. If we are to be the friends of God, there must be a conformity of heart, and will, and design, and character to God. Can two walk together except they be agreed? Our lives must, in the main, run in parallel lines with the life of the gracious, holy, and loving God, or else we shall be walking contrary to Him, and He will walk contrary to us.
4. If we have got as far as that, then the next thing will surely follow--there must be a continual intercourse. The friend of God must not spend a day without God, and he must undertake no work apart from his God.
5. If we are to be the friends of God we must be co-partners with Him. He gives over to us all that He has; and friendship with God will necessitate that we give to Him all that we have.
6. Friendship, if it exists, will breed mutual delight. The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him. I am sure if we are God’s friends our greatest joy is to draw near to God, even to God our exceeding joy.
IV. THE TITLE TO BE UTILISED for practical purposes.
1. Here is a great encouragement to the people of God. See the possibility that lies within your reach--make it a reality at once.
2. Next, here is solemn thought for those who would be friends of God. A man’s friend must show himself friendly, and behave with tender care for his friend. A little word from a friend will pain you much more than a fierce slander from an enemy. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Friendship with God
I. THE NATURE OF THAT FRIENDSHIP WHICH SUBSISTS BETWEEN GOD AND HIS PEOPLE.
1. This friendship is not such as subsists between two equals, but between persons widely different in rank and dignity--the friendship that there sometimes is between a mighty prince and one of his subjects, in the former of whom it is mere condescension and kindness, and in the latter honour and preferment.
2. This friendship with God is in consequence of a reconciliation which has taken place (Romans 5:1). A mere act of grace on God’s part, through a Mediator; and, on their part, repentance.
3. This friendship includes--
(2) Likeness or agreement.
(3) Cordial esteem and strong affection.
(4) Free and delightful intercourse.
(5) Mutual confidence.
(6) A disposition to please, honour, and serve.
II. REFLECTIONS AND INFERENCES.
1. We are hence led to form the most pleasing ideas of the great and blessed God.
2. How thankful should we be for Jesus Christ; and how ought we to love Him and rejoice in Him, through whom we can view the offended Sovereign of the universe with such complacency, and entertain the hope of His friendship.
3. The excellence and dignity of true religion--it introduces all who are possessed of it to the most exalted state of honour and happiness.
4. What ought to be the temper and conduct of those who are advanced to this high and honourable state?
(1) They are bound to all the expressions of gratitude and love.
(2) Let the friends of God cultivate a more lively faith and habitual confidence in Him.
(3) The friends of God should consider themselves as bound to exercise love and friendship towards others.
5. The relation in which good men stand to God, highly recommends them to the esteem of all who know them.
6. We may hence judge concerning our state, whether we are interested in the Divine friendship or not.
7. We learn what we are to judge of the real character, condition, and duty of those to whom the honourable appellation in the text does not belong.
Their character is, that they are the enemies of God: their condition is, that they are the objects of His displeasure; and their duty is that they instantly seek His friendship, and become reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ. (S. Palmer.)
Abraham the Friend of God
Friendship is a theme calculated to make a deep impression upon the mind. Even philosophers, with all their austerity of disposition and stoical apathy, could expatiate on its sterling value. And Christianity, so far from discountenancing the cultivation of friendship between man and man, happily tends to promote it.
I. THE GLORIOUS PRIVILEGE. Friendship with God includes--
1. Freedom of access.
2. The exercise of a charitable and sympathetic disposition.
3. Confidential communications.
4. The due administration of counsel and reproof.
5. The bestowment of suitable blessings.
II. THE HAPPY INDIVIDUAL UPON WHOM IT WAS CONFERRED. Abraham was called the Friend of God. If you would be numbered with the friends of God, ye must be the possessors of Abraham’s faith. There is a threefold view in which this faith should be contemplated.
1. It justifies from sin.
2. It purifies the heart.
3. It regulates the life. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Abraham the Friend of God
There are two passages in the Old Testament to which the apostle may here refer, viz., 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8. That any of the fallen children of Adam should be admittedto bear this title, a” Friend of God,” is at once a display of the greatest condescension on the part of the glorious Jehovah, and of the efficacy of His grace in its influence on the heart.
I. ABRAHAM ENTERS INTO THIS STATE OF FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD BY THE CALL OF DIVINE GRACE, AND AS A BELIEVER IN THE DIVINE WORD. This method of entering into friendship with God is graciously appointed as suited to our fallen state, and as bringing honour to God in our salvation. It shows that on no ground of our own can we claim acceptance with the Majesty of heaven. We have fallen from Him, and have forfeited His love.
If we are received by Him, it must be in some way devised by His wisdom and grace, and which He discovers to us; and we must be brought to receive it as He freely and graciously presents it unto us in the testimony of His own Word, so that by the exercise of faith in that Word, and resting on what it reveals as coming from God, we are to be accepted, justified, and saved.
II. AS THE FRIEND OF GOD, ABRAHAM WAS FAVOURED WITH DIVINE DIRECTION, AND IMPLICITLY FOLLOWED THAT DIVINE GUIDANCE. This has ever been the privilege and the spirit of those who have been heirs of the faith and piety of Abraham. Called out from the course of an evil world, they have become travellers towards the heavenly Canaan, have been taken under the care of their God, as the friend of their souls; and they have yielded themselves to the guidance of infinite wisdom and mercy as to all the way which they should pursue through this world. God, as their gracious Friend, has said that “the meek He will guide in judgment, and the meek He will teach His way”; by the counsels of His Word He will lead them in right paths, by the events of His providence open their path; making His way straight before their face--the way in which He would have them to go; giving to them the wisdom profitable to direct them, and inclining their hearts to walk in the path He points out.
III. AS THE FRIEND OF GOD, ABRAHAM HAD INTIMATE COMMUNION WITH GOD. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant”--He will make them the men of His counsel, acquainted with His will, and receiving the tokens of His love. He invites them to come near, He promises to commune with them off the mercy-seat; there is the gracious Intercessor to introduce them, and the Divine Spirit to aid them. Their “fellowship truly is to be with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” They are to find that it is good for them to draw nigh unto God. Through Christ they have an access by one Spirit unto the Father.” They are to realise a Friend in heaven who is ready to attend to their eases--who can understand all their feelings, observe all their wants--who can sympathise with them under all their sorrows--who is ready at all times to hear their pleadings, and who “is able to do for them exceeding abundantly above all that they ask or think, according to the power that worketh in them.”
IV. AS THE FRIEND OF GOD, THERE WAS, IN THE CASE OF ABRAHAM, SUBMISSION AND OBEDIENCE TO THE DIVINE WILL, COMBINED WITH TRUST
IN THE DIVINE PROMISES. The same word that gives the command presents the promise; we are to Obey the one, and leave it with God to fulfil the other. His command must be right, His promise must be true and good; the dispensations of His providence must be wise and right, and the word of His promise must be firm as the pillars of heaven!
V. As THE FRIEND OF GOD ABRAHAM WAS LOOKING FOR HIS FULL AND FINAL HAPPINESS IN GOD. This is the case with all those who partake of the faith and piety of Abraham. Thus it was with his believing descendants. This was their language, “As for me, I shall behold Thy faith in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Thy likeness.” “This God is our God for ever and ever, He will be our guide even unto death.” “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory.” They felt their spirits rising to God, longing to get nearer to Him. “My soul followeth hard after Thee,” anticipating the complete enjoyment of His presence and love, and conformity to His image in a future state. This is to be “the inheritance of the saints in light,” for which God is meetening them by the friendship they have with Him here. By way of conclusion, let us observe--
1. How great the privilege, how high the honour, how enduring the happiness, to be a friend of God!
2. Then the great point of inquiry is, Are we possessors of the faith and piety by which Abraham was distinguished as “the friend of God”? (Thos. Coleman.)
Abraham the Friend of God
I. THE DISPOSITION AND CONDUCT OF GOD TOWARDS ABRAHAM. He distinguished him as His friend by--
1. His large munificence.
2. His intimate communion with Abraham.
3. His affectionate confidence in Abraham.
4. His sacred fidelity to Abraham.
II. ABRAHAM’S DISPOSITION AND CONDUCT TOWARDS GOD.
1. Abraham’s steady faith in God.
2. Abraham’s holy fellowship with God.
3. Abraham’s cheerful obedience to God.
1. Learn from the subject, the true dignity of man. It is not worldly distinction, not earthly possession, not alliance with the gay and the great; but it is to be “blessed with faithful Abraham”--it is to have fellowship with heaven, and friendship with God. But do all sustain this true dignity? Are all the friends of God? Certainly not. If men were His friends, it would be evinced in their disposition and conduct; but no such evidence is universally given. The fact is too plain, that many are living the very opposite of a life of faith, of prayer, and of obedience.
2. Be thankful for the grace which you have found. Praise Him, oh, praise Him, for all His inestimable benefits.
3. Confide more implicitly and affectionately in Him who hath done so much for you.
4. Enjoy your comforts with grateful satisfaction.
5. Learn to endure trials with calm submission.
6. Beware not to offend your Friend. (T. Kidd.)
Friendship with God
I. THE UNPARALLELED MERCY OF GOD. It is a friendship which the Highest Sovereign in the universe originates--
1. With the meanest of His subjects.
2. With His meanest rebellious subjects.
3. At a most tremendous sacrifice.
4. Pressed on them after repeated rejections.
II. THE INCOMPARABLE PRIVILEGES OF THE SAINT,
III. THE DEMONSTRATION OF PIETY. We cannot be friends of God without developing certain salient, palpable, and evidential results.
1. We shall be humble in spirit.
2. We shall resemble Him in character.
3. We shall have zeal for His honour.
4. We shall have confidence in His administration.
5. We shall love the society of His friends.
6. We shall delight to think of Him. (D. Thomas.)
Friendship with God
I. The friendship, of which the apostle speaks, like that which existed between these two noble characters to whom I have referred, was marked by MUTUAL CONFIDENCE. There must be between friends a sure, unquestioning, repose of heart upon heart--a repose, the result of mutual confidence, and knowledge of mind and character. There must be trust so simple, so full, that it cares to have no reserves and secrets; dependence so real, so implicit, as will not be shaken by a semblance of suspicion, even when there are actions on the one side or the other, which, for the time, cannot be understood, and which must wait to be explained.
II. MUTUAL COMMUNION, as in the case of the sons of Saul and Jesse, strengthens friendship; it longs for it, lives by it. And with what intimate communion, indeed, did the Lord distinguish his friend Abraham, by special and direct address, besides other divers means, and at sundry times 1 From the day of his call from the eastern side of the river, to the day of his death at a good old age, did He converse with him, and direct him at critical seasons of his history. The communion was intimate and friendly in an unusual degree: and as God drew near to him, he, to take the impressive description which the apostle gives of the fellowship which the Christian heart has consciously with God, he drew near to God; worship was the habit of his soul. Oh! how blessed a privilege, within the reach of the meanest, the feeblest child in spirit of his Father--of God’s faithful ones! You all have secrets which you cannot tell to man--secrets which you must conceal even from your dearest friend--there are feelings so sacred, or so delicate in their nature, that they must not be spoken even to him. But there is no grief, no care of the heart, which we may not, cannot, ought not to open before our Heavenly Father. The very sigh of contrition He hears and understands--the very flow of feeling of desire towards Himself, which never passed into utterance--each silent affection of the heart is a prayer before Him. There are Seasons, too, when distance forbids that access to earthly friends for which our burdened hearts do intensely yearn; but there are no seasons of separation from our Heavenly Father--no wants, no cries will ever be intrusive upon His patient audience.
III. MUTUAL FIDELITY is a characteristic of friendship--fidelity which, when tried, can bear the test, and is strengthened by it. Now mark, on the one hand, the fidelity of God to His friend. It was sorely tried, but it was never shaken by the infirmity of the patriarch. It was independent of the patriarch’s worthiness or unworthiness; shown, not because of merit, but because of grace; and so it varied not with the varying disposition of its object; it lived through Abraham’s infirmity. Its exercise was pity, pardon, restoration; the promise failed not, though the creature thought it in his injustice. I say, this is the secret of the Divine faithfulness which never wearies, never weakens, never exhausts; this is the secret--“I have loved thee with an everlasting love, and therefore with lovingkindness trove I drawn thee”! Then, I observe the faithfulness of the patriarch. As on a cloudy day, the sun shines through the misty curtain which hides it, so, notwithstanding sad failures of fidelity, the friend responded to the faithfulness of God, and as eminent was his faith, so necessarily cheerful was the obedience of Abrabam. (C. P. Eyre, M. A.)
Abraham the Friend of God
The following story is given by Mahometan Commentators on the passage,” God took Abraham for His friend,” which occurs in the fourth chapter of the Koran, entitled “Nessa” or “Women”; Abraham was the father of the poor, and in a famine he emptied his granaries to feed them. Then he sent to one of his friends, who was a great lord in Egypt, for corn. But the friend said, “We also are in danger of famine. The corn is not wanted for Abraham, but for his poor. I must keep it for our own poor.” And the messengers returned with empty sacks. As they neared home they feared being mocked for their failure; so they filled their sacks with sand, and came in well laden. In private they told Abraham of his friend’s refusal, and Abraham at once retired to pray. Meanwhile Sarah opened one of the sacks, and found excellent flour in it, and with this began to bake bread for the poor. When Abraham returned from prayer he asked Sarah whence she obtained the flour. “From that which your:friend in Egypt has sent,” she replied. “Say rather from that which the true Friend has sent, that is God; for it is He who never fails us in our need.” At the moment when Abraham called God his Friend, God took Abraham also to be His friend.
By works a man is justified
Justification by works, and not by faith only
I. Without holiness of heart and life, we cannot be in a justified state, because holiness of heart and life, with its remote consequences here and hereafter, is the very end and design of our justification.
II. Without holiness of heart and life we cannot be in a justified state, because the principles implied in justification infallibly produce holiness of heart and life.
III. Holiness of heart and life is the only evidence which we can give of our justification to our fellowmen and to the Church of Christ.
IV. Holiness of heart and life is the only evidence of our justification that will be received at the judgment-seat of God. (James Stark.)
Creed and conduct
(with Romans 3:28)
It should be remembered that these two apostles, although writing upon the same subject, regard it from different points of view. Paul, with his metaphysical mind, had been working out the doctrine of the sinner’s justification. He had shown that Jew and Gentile are alike guilty before God, for all have sinned.” Where then, he asks, is man’s hope? It is in the unmerited mercy of God. Salvation is the gift of grace, and not the reward of works. By this method of gratuitous justification human boasting is excluded, and Divine love is manifested. James looks at the same subject more on its practical side. He is not so much concerned with the ground of justification as with its evidence. He asks, What is the test of personal religion? Is it enough for a man to say “I believe”? Assuredly not. Words without deeds are of little worth. They are like professions of charity without charitable acts. Nothing is easier than for a man to say “I believe”; but unless the soul actually accepts Christ as its Saviour and Lord, such words are empty and delusive. If they express a reality, it is a reality which involves nothing less than a complete transformation of the life. The man puts himself under the authority of Christ; accepts His teaching as the rule of his life. He is conscious of new motives, new aims, new joys. New spiritual forces have sprung into being in his soul. He is justified by his works, in the sense that his works prove the reality and power of his faith. We thus see that there is no real disagreement between the apostles Paul and James. One makes prominent the side of truth which the other passes over. The truths they teach make a complete gospel; a gospel of deliverance from sin itself, as well as from its punishment. From Paul we learn to renounce all self-righteous grounds of confidence, and to look for salvation through faith in Christ. From James we learn that the faith required is a faith that will manifest itself in obedience to the law of Christ and that if this obedience be lacking it proves the absence of real living faith. The Church must still cleave to this gospel of the necessary union of faith and works. Christian belief and Christian morality have no separate and independent life. They are closely and vitally connected. They stand to each other in the relation of cause and effect. They are the necessary parts of one whole. It is possible to attach too much importance to the holding of a sound creed. A correct theology is no infallible criterion of spiritual life. Christianity is much more than a set of logical propositions. A man may have a full system of divinity in his head, and no divine light and love in his heart. On the other hand there can be no true obedience without faith. There must be the grasp of the soul upon truth, or it will not operate upon the conduct. Conventional morality is often a hollow, selfish thing; an appearance only; a painted fire, in which there is neither light nor heat. The morality that springs from Christian faith must of necessity be sincere. It is the outward expression of an inward life of goodness. The faith in which it has its root need not be formulated into a creed; but it must be none the less real and powerful. So long as it is a vital force in the soul, it matters not whether it is expressed in logical definition and syllogistic form. It is a living conviction that is required, not a lifeless dogma. No morality is so lofty, so far-reaching, and so binding as that of the New Testament. Christianity offers itself as our guide in the round of everyday life, as much as in the work and worship of the Sabbath. It seeks to make every home a sanctuary, and every man and every day holy unto the Lord. It seeks to banish from the earth all such things as lying and stealing, self-seeking and niggardliness, unfair dealing, short weights, small measures, bad tempers, and cross words. It seeks to promote justice and liberty, uprightness, consideration for others, love between man and man. If the power of this truth were duly felt, would the members of our churches content themselves with the present low standard of Christian conduct? Is there not some room for the taunt that Christianity is a failure, when its professors are sometimes found to be no purer in character, no more noble nor unselfish in life than other men? Our age is said to be sceptical. Able writers are engaged in defending by argument the citadel of truth against the assaults of error. But the mightiest argument the Church can advance is the practical embodiment of the truth she believes. Let her show her faith by her works. Let her feed the hungry and clothe the naked, teach the ignorant, rescue the fallen, devote herself, like her Divine Lord, to the removal of human suffering and human sin, showing in all things a heavenly purity and self sacrificing love. This shall be more convincing than the reasoning of all the Paleys and the Butlers the world has seen. The power of practical piety shall accomplish that which argumentative theology has failed to achieve. The same power will be found mighty in the evangelisation of the world. The world is weary of cant and dogma. It wants reality. It looks for life. It asks contemptuously, “What do ye more than others?” Let Christian workmen be as diligent in their master’s absence as in his presence. Let Christian employers be fair and just to their workmen. Let Christian tradesmen and Christian customers act according to the precepts of the New Testament. Let Christian principles prevail in the market, the shop, and the field. Men will learn the mighty power of Christ’s doctrine when they see it thus exhibited in Christ-like life. (T. Bagley.)
Faith is the fountain-head, whence works proceed, and the justification of man ensues in course. Let me illustrate this by a familiar example: suppose a man to have a mill worked by a stream which ran out of one of our lakes; now it is quite clear that he owes all his water, and therefore all his prosperity on that matter, to the lake. And as the stream has no water of its own, but draws all from the lake, the truth, broadly and nakedly set forth, will be, that he is dependent on the lake only, without any water that the stream of itself supplies. Now with this statement we may compare the statement of St. Paul, that “a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law,” which in themselves can avail him nothing; and it would be particularly contradictory to the assertion of all such as maintained that the man was supplied by the stream, without any reference to the lake; give the lake, and you have the stream from its overflow: so faith supposes works. But make a channel ever so broad and deep for the stream, you will have no water if there be no water in the lake: so works are nothing without faith. And so St. Paul’s assertion was especially, contrary to the doctrine of the Jews, who would have the Gentiles justified by works. But suppose now the owner of the mill to say, I entirely depend upon the lake, and so presuming, entirely neglected the stream, never cleaning out its channel, nor repairing its embankments, would he not shortly find out that he must look to the stream too, and that he depended both upon the lake and the stream, and not on the lake only? Such was the mistake of those with whom St. James argues, who said that they had enough in their faith, and neglected works: and accordingly St. James tells them that they must be justified by works, and not by faith only. (R. W.Evans, B. D.)
As a fruit-tree, to be worth anything, brings forth fruit, so faith, to be real, brings forth works: good acts, holy deeds, right conduct, pious living. Faith without works is as dead as a skeleton; works without faith, as lifeless as a belted tree. What God hath joined, let no one put asunder. I fear, however, that sometimes our idea of what good works are, is erroneous. We are prone to regard only something religious, or something very great or conspicuous, as a good work. If some of us could only build a church, or endow a college or a theological seminary or a great hospital, or head a popular subscription list, we might think that we were doing a good work. And so we should be; if an object is good and the motive pure, and the love of man and of Christ pervade it, the act is a good work. But it does not require the condition of size to cause a deed to be holy. Dimension is not an essential property of things spiritual. Let us take the family. We have a way of speaking of our “sacred duties,” and, by these, we generally mean our religious ones; but are no duties sacred except those of the closet, or the chapel? All duty is sacred. You cannot lay the finger on a duty, or a class of duties which is not. It is just as truly a “sacred duty” that a father provide for his family, as that he contribute to the support of the external and public acts of religion. Prayer is a sacred duty, but just as truly is industry. And, in this realm of sacred duty, this field for the exercise of godly works which spring of godly faith and a love for both man and his Maker, what, pray, shall we call a gentle tone, a soft answer, a look of compassion, a touch of sympathy; what, the forethought which anticipates the wishes of others; the spirit of self-sacrifice which prefers personal inconvenience rather than to give unnecessary trouble; what, all those little things which adorn and glorify the domestic life? Are they not all in the nature of holy deeds? An act needs not to be heralded in order to be noble. The smallest good work is large. And take the social life. Any act which spares the feelings of some sensitive person; any act which shields the blunders of ignorance; anything--small or large, which recognises the brotherhood of humanity--are not these, if they come of love of God and men, in the nature of good works? In one sense they cannot be little; nothing is small that is done for God and in His Name. (R. W.Lowrie.)
The Bible, from first to last, insists upon personal righteousness. Common life, or society, teaches us also that a salvation that did not insist upon virtue would be the destruction of society in all its temporal interests. If heaven could be sustained and peopled by faith without good works, earth at least could not; it would be compelled to resort to moral lives. The doctrine of salvation by faith must therefore be so stated and held as to leave society its friend, trusting faith rather than fearing it, and must be so stated and held as to leave the other doctrines of Christianity some reason of existence. In their joy over the newly-discovered idea of salvation by the mediation of Christ, some of the divines around Luther, with Luther himself, declared that no amount of sin would imperil the soul that should possess this marvellous faith. Thus at one stroke the doctrines of regeneration, and repentance, and sanctification, and love to man, are cut-down as cumberers of the ground. The Bible is reduced to one sentence; its grateful music is silenced into one note, to be sounded evermore upon a single string. This discussion may now prepare us to hear the words of St. James, which so conflict with the Solitidian, words of our creeds. Faith, indeed, will save a soul, but faith then is not rigidly a belief; it is more, it is a friendship, for the word “belief” is often wholly omitted, and for whole pages the love for Christ reigns in its stead. In St. John the word “love” quite excludes the word “faith.” Faith, therefore, being a devotion to a leader, a mere belief is nothing. A man is justified by his active affections, and not by his acquiescence in some principle. Thus faith, in the biblical sense, is not a simple belief, but a mystical union with Christ, such that the works of the Master are the joy of the disciple. Works, that is, results--a new life--are the destiny of faith, the reason of its wonderful play of light upon the religious horizon. If the New Testament is to be a place where “belief ‘“is a substitute for a moral life, then the uprightness of Job was not a shadow of our better era; but the spectacle is reversed, and we are the waning evening of a day whose purer sunlight fell thousands of years ago in the land of Uz. But we believe in no such retrograde of doctrine. We believe the righteousness of the Old Testament only a shadow of the great unfolding of the human heart, destined to issue out in the Sermon of the Mount. If the old law said, “Thou shalt not kill,” it sounded only the first note in the music of a love which would do to others what it would theft others should do unto it.
Indeed, the gospel is a perfect overflow of justice, of honour, of kindness, of active love. Its prayer is that men may be perfect, as the Father in heaven is perfect. But this spiritual condition will not become universal or even common, if the word “belief” is so magnified that the Church cannot see the human” righteousness” in its supreme beauty. (D. Swing.)
Rahab the harlot
I. She possessed SINGULAR FAITH.
1. She received no instruction from her parents. Here we see a lone palm in the desert, a solitary life among the tombs. When in seeing inquirers I have to talk to young persons who are the only ones of the family attending the house of God at all, the only ones who make any pretensions to godliness, I feel great sympathy with them because I know they will have much to put up with, and a heavy cross to carry. Such converts are not plants in the conservatory, but flowers exposed to the winter’s cold; yet it is right to add that I have often observed that these have become amongst the strongest and most decided Christians that I have ever met with. Even as Rahab, though her faith was solitary and was like a lily among thorns, yet was her faith none the less strong, but perhaps all the more unwavering.
2. She was not in a believing country. If we could have taken a bird’s-eye view of the city of Jericho, and had been informed that there was one believer there, I warrant you we should not have looked to Rahab’s house. She would have been about the last person that we should have supposed had been a possesser of faith in the true God. God has a people where we little dream of it, and He has chosen ones among a sort of people whom we dare not hope for.
3. Her means of knowledge were very slender; and, therefore, the food of her faith was comparatively scant. She had no book inspired of God to read; she had been instructed by no prophet; no Elias had spoken to her in the name of God: no Jonah had gone through the streets of her city warning men to repent. What information she had obtained she had gathered by odds and ends. Take heed lest in the day of judgment she should rise up against you. She believed with far less testimony, how will you be able to excuse your own persistent unbelief?
4. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about her faith was that she should be a woman of such a character. She was apparently the most unlikely.person to become a believer in Jehovah. She was a harlot, a woman that was a sinner, and universally known to be such.
5. Rahab’s faith was singular because the subject of it was difficult. What was it she had to believe? Was it not this? That Israel would destroy Jericho. Now, between Jericho and the tribes flowed the Jordan, and the Israelites had no means of crossing it. Only a miracle could divide that overflowing river. Did Rahab’s faith expect a miracle? If so, it was remarkably strong. Around Jericho stood a gigantic wall. There was no likelihood of the assailants scaling it or making a breach in it. Did Rahab think that those walls would fall flat to the ground? Or did she leave the way of the capture with God, but firmly believe that it would be conquered? If so, she was a woman of no small faith.
II. RAHAB’S FAITH WAS ACTIVE. It was not a sleeping faith, or a dead faith; it was an operative faith.
1. It was active, first, mentally. When she believed she began to think. Some persons get converted at revivals and wild excitements, and seem to me as if they either have no brains or else their heads were never entered by grace.” May we have a faith which thrills our entire manhood, moves our judgment, enlightens our understanding, and makes us decided for truth and righteousness in whatever company we may be thrown.
2. Her faith was active in her own sphere. She did not set up to be a heroine, and say, “Now I am a follower of Jehovah, I must be doing something extraordinary.” She did not pack up her clothes and start off to some distant place where she could find more glittering service for Jehovah; but she stopped where she was and served God there. She minded her own guests and kept her own house. I believe that home duties are one of the very best forms of the activity of faith, especially in Christian women. Our business is not to do what we fancy, but what the Lord appoints for us.
3. And let me say that she did all this to the best of her ability, and she used her common sense. I never could see why true religion should be so often associated with stupidity, and yet I have remarked that some gracious people either affect a babyish simplicity, or else the Lord has indeed chosen the foolish things of this world. If you have faith, surely you are not therefore to act as if you had lost your reason.
4. Rahab was also active at great risk. She gladly staked all upon the truth of God, and ran all risks to save the servants of the Lord. In this being far superior to those who will not risk their employment, their situation, their good name, or even the love of a single relative for Jesus Christ’s sake.
III. RAHAB’S FAITH WAS MARRED WITH GROSS WEAKNESS. She lied unto the men who came to the door to seize the spies. But at the same time, please to recollect that she did not know it was wrong to lie. There were, no doubt, in her conscience indistinct glimmerings of an idea that to lie was an evil thing, but, nevertheless, her surroundings prevented her clearly knowing it as we know it. To this very day among many Orientals it is far more usual to lie than to speak the truth; in fact, a thorough-bred aboriginal eastern never does speak the truth unless by mistake, and he would be very sorry for it if he knew he had done so, even by accident. Among the Hindoos men cannot readily be believed upon their oaths in courts of justice. You must judge individuals from their own standpoint, and consider their circumstances, or you may do them an injustice. I do not want to say a word of apology for the falsehood, far from it. It is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, altogether wrong; but, for all that, before you condemn Rahab, be quite sure that you do not condemn yourself, and ask yourself first what you would have said, or what you would have done under the circumstances. To tell the truth is always right. Consequences are not so much to be thought of as the claims of the God of truth.
IV. Rahab’s was A FAITH THAT WAS NOT ABOVE THE USE OF OUTWARD SIGNS AND SEALS. She was not superstitious; she did not believe that anything mystical was in the red cord, but she put it there, because she had been told to do so. Now, the highest faith in Christ is perfectly consistent with the obedient use of Christian ordinances.
V. HER FAITH WAS SAVING FAITH. I have shown how it was grievously marred, but it was effectual notwithstanding. She was saved when all the city wall went down. So true faith in Christ, despite its weakness, will save us, separate us from world, join us unto God’s Israel, marry us to the true Prince of Judah, give us kinship with the Lord Jesus Christ; and what higher dignity is it possible to receive?
VI. HER FAITH BECAME WITH GOD ACCEPTABLE, SO THAT SHE WAS THE MEANS OF THE SALVATION OF OTHERS. She thought of her father, and her mother, and her brothers, and her sisters. Now, wherever there is a real child of God there will be anxiety for his family. If you do not want to have your children saved, you are not saved yourself. Rahab, with all that was wrong about her, had an intense love for her kindred. But notice that, love them as she might, she could not save them unless she got them under the red flag. It will be of no use when you die to say, “Spare me, O avenging angel, my mother prayed for me, my sister agonised for my conversion.” No, you must personally get into Christ yourself, and have a real faith in Him, or no prayers of others can be of any avail for you. But the mercy was that somehow Rahab was helped by God to bring all her family in. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The faith of Rahab
1. Many times God may choose the worst of sinners. Faith in a harlot is acceptable: “The last shall be first”; that is, those that set out late for heaven do often make more way than an early professor. The most odious and despised sinners, when they turn to God by repentance, find grace and place in Christ’s heart.
2. The meanest faith must justify itself by works and gracious effects. Rahab, a Gentile convert, doth not only profess, but preserve the spies. The smallest faith, though it be but like a grain of mustard-seed, will have some branches.
3. Believers, though they justify their profession, are still monuments of free grace. It is “Rahab, the harlot,” though justified by works. The scars and marks of old sins remain, not to our dishonour, but God’s glory.
4. Ordinary acts are gracious when they flow from faith and are done in obedience; as Rahab’s receiving the messengers: entertainment in such a case is not civility, but religion. A carnal man performeth his religious duties for civil ends, and a godly man his civil duties for religious ends, and in offices natural and human he is spiritual. Certainly there is no chemistry like to that of grace; there brass is turned into gold, and actions of commerce made worship. A Christian is always doing his great work, whether in the shop or in the closet, obeying God and glorifying God in his respects to men.
5. The great trial of faith is in acts of self-denial. Such was Rahab’s, to prefer the will of God before the safety of her own country; and such was Abraham’s in the former instance. Self-denial is the first thing that must be resolved upon in Christianity (Matthew 16:24). No trial like that when we can part with some conveniency in sense, upon the proper and sole encouragement of faith.
6. The actions and duties of God’s children are usually blemished with some notable defect; as Rahab’s entertainment with Rahab’s lie. “Moses smote the rock twice” (Numbers 20:11); there was anger mixed with faith.
7. God hideth His-eyes from the evil that is in our good actions. Here is mention made of receiving the messengers, but no mention of the lie. He that drew Alexander, whilst he had a scar upon his face, drew him with his finger upon the scar. God putteth the finger of mercy upon our scars. (T. Manton.)
If there be those among you who are ever disposed to complain that temptation is too strong for you, that the world around you is evil, and that your own hearts prompt to forbidden gratification, oh! think of Bahab, her conduct and its reward. There is no brighter example set before you in affirmation of the sacred truth, that where sin aboundeth, grace doth much more abound. It was but report that reached her. She listened, and was guided aright. Direct teaching is offered you. Do not suppose it enough to express your belief only, that belief must be proved sincere by your consequent conduct. She hazarded her life in the cause of God’s people. Act on your convictions. Ye too, out of weakness, shall be made strong. Ye too, being made free from sin, and become servants to God, shall have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. But are you fearful? Do you dread to suffer present loss on casting in your lot with the people of God? Then are you put to shame by her who risked the loss of all things, who had been brought up with heathens, and had lived in sin, and who yet resisted unto death, and was saved with the remnant of the true Israel. Through the same faith, working by love, ye shall be accounted righteous, and in that more fearful overthrow, when the sun shall be black as sackcloth of hair, and the stars shall fall from heaven, ye shall in nowise be forgotten, but shall inherit the kingdom prepared for the blessed, even from the foundation of the world. (F. Jackson.)
Faith without works is dead
The vital efficacy of faith
I. THE NECESSITY OF ITS POSSESSION.
1. It is Divinely required.
2. It is the only way of salvation.
3. It is an essential property of religion.
II. THE EXCELLENCE OF ITS CHARACTER.
1. It is Divine in its author.
2. It is vigorous in its operations.
3. It is consoling in its prospects.
III. THE EFFICACY OF ITS PRINCIPLE. When faith is genuine, it always promotes--
1. Works of purity and holiness.
2. Works of conquest and triumph.
3. Works of love and benevolence.
4. Works of zeal and perseverance.
1. The necessary union between faith and works.
2. The duty and importance of self-examination.
3. The peace and felicity of holding fast faith and a good conscience. (Theological Sketch-book.)
Living faith a working faith
With a view to the exposition and application of this text, we shall endeavour to exhibit--
I. THE ERRORS WHICH IT OPPOSES. The covenant of mercy, although framed before the fall, was revealed after it. The Bible is not so old as sin. Error came first, and truth followed it. A daring rebel rose in a portion of the sovereign’s dominions, and a force was sent to discover and destroy him; the position, magnitude, and character of the insurrection, determine the dispositions of the royal army which has been commissioned to put it down. Thus, error that sprung up on earth has determined the form of the truth that invades it from heaven. Emerging from the strife victorious, salvation appeared in the form which it got in those fires. The truth which the Bible contains was, in its essence, prior to all error and sin, for error is originally a deviation from eternal truth; but the Bible, which brings the truth to us, has been shaped upon falsehood its foe. The same rule holds good when you descend to the specific features of revelation. Even the sayings of Jesus often took their shape from the cavils of devils or wicked men. The operation and effect of this principle may be seen in the teaching of the two apostles, James and Paul, regarding faith. Had the errors of those days been of another cast, the truth on that subject would have descended to us in a different form. More particularly the two main features of faith, as represented in the Scriptures--the two feet on which it stands secure--have been moulded in two deep pits which Satan had prepared for the destruction of men. The two errors regarding faith were contrary to each other, and yet both alike were contrary to truth. Both put asunder the two whom God has joined, and the severance is death to the severed; as well might you expect the right and left sides of a human being to live and act after they are separated by a sword. The works of the legalist are dead for want of faith; the faith of the antinomian dead for want of works. These two deep pits, so situated, give form and position to the two main pillars of the truth. As the errors are opposite, the same enunciation of truth is not fitted to subvert both. The truths that will meet and match these lies are in an important sense the opposite of each other. The errors, though opposite, are both errors, and the truths, though in a subordinate sense opposite, are both truths. Two separate witnesses have been chosen and called to give evidence against these two errors, and enunciate the corresponding counteracting truths. Paul deals with one of the adversaries, and James with the other. Paul insisting on faith only, and James on works also, stand not face to face fighting against each other, but back to back fighting opposite foes: they are both on the same side, although for the time they look and strike in opposite directions. Paul divides the whole world into two: those who seek to be justified before God through faith in Christ; and those who trust in other appliances. He then tells off as on the right side those who cling to faith, and sets aside all the rest as errorists. Observe, now, it is the division whom Paul has pronounced right, and that division only, with whom James deals. He addresses not those who denied Paul’s doctrine of faith, but those who accepted and professed it. Paul’s test decided the soundness of the profession: James throws in among the sound another solvent which precipitates a quantity of dark and fetid grounds. His question is: Assuming that you all acknowledge faith, is your faith living or dead?
II. THE DOCTRINES WHICH IT TEACHES. Here we must, in the first place, endeavour to ascertain the meaning of the remarkable figure which is employed in the text. A handle is borrowed from nature, that by its help we may more firmly grasp this spiritual and unseen thing. In the structure of the analogy body corresponds to faith, and spirit to works. The question here lies not between faith and obedience, but between a true and spurious faith; works are put forward, not as a substitute for faith, but as a test of its genuineness. It is an application to this particular case of the Lord’s own rule, By their fruits ye shall known them.
1. Verse. 1: James as well as Paul starts with faith in Jesus as the first and chief; but he proceeds to explain what fruits it ought to bear. He proposes certain lovely virtues, such as humility, self-sacrifice, and brotherly love, not as substitutes, but as companions for faith.
2. Verse 14: Here he does not say that faith is profitless; but that it is profitless for a man to “say” he has faith, while his conduct shows that his profession is false.
3. Verse 20: It is here neither expressed nor implied that works will justify the doer, while faith will not justify the believer; he only reiterates the former assertion that barren faith is dead, and dead faith is worthless.
4. Verse 24: A faith that stands alone does not justify, for it is a dead faith.
III. PRACTICAL LESSONS. Both in its doctrinal and its practical aspect the text is obviously and emphatically one sided: it does not give all the doctrines and all the precepts which bear a relation to the subject. It is not a treatise on theology, but a vigorous stroke for actual holiness. It is the sudden, self-forgetting rush of a good soldier of Jesus Christ, not directly against the opposing ranks of the enemy to drive them in, but against the diverging columns of his own friends, to direct their line of march into the path of safety. The main lesson is, An orthodox profession will not save an unconverted, unsanctified man. A correct opinion will not waft to heaven a carnal mind. When a breeze blows on a bed of growing willows, all heads bend gracefully; not one resists. But it costs the willows nothing to yield; and when the wind changes, you may see them all pointing the other way. Behold the picture of smooth, hollow, unreal faith! We learn regarding a certain ancient Church, from the testimony of the “true Witness,” that they had a name that they lived while they were dead; and the same species of Christianity abounds in the present day. The outward frame of faith, although correct and complete, is a body dead, if it have not love within, and break not forth in righteousness. In nature, the higher animal organisations are, as a general rule, more noisome in death than the lower. The more perfect the body is while living, the more vile it becomes when it is dead. Faith--the system of revealed truth taken from the Bible, and lying accepted in a human understanding--is a glorious body; but this body dead is in God’s sight most loathsome. There is no sight on this world so displeasing to the Holy One as the profession of trust in Christ without a panting and straining after conformity to His image. (W. Arnot.)
Faith without works is dead
The use of the body, we all know, is to communicate between the soul and the external world--it interposes between the spirit of man and the objects of nature, and is a means of communication between both--conveying to the mind images and impressions, and being again the instrument by which the mind acts upon matter. The eye, the bodily organ, is nothing more than a medium by which the ideas of form and colour are derived from objects of nature. So long as it effects this purpose, it partakes of life--it is a means of linking soul to soul, and man to the world; but when it has ceased to perform such an office, when the spirit has withdrawn from the body to which it belongs, then, although the organ still remains with all the beauty of its admirable mechanism, it no longer partakes of life, for there is no living principle with which it is connected, and for which it serves as a medium of communication. Consider faith as a new principle, or a new sense in the soul, having for its office to give notice of the things belonging to the other world, and you will see that there is great propriety in pronouncing it to be dead, if it be not accompanied by works. You have all, perhaps, had opportunities of witnessing what is termed a dead hand or arm; and what is it to which you apply such a name? It is to a member upon which impressions hurtful to the body may be made, and yet no such intimation conveyed to the mind as would cause the danger to be avoided. And if a man say that he has faith, and yet do not refrain from things that may hurt the soul--if he present himself thoughtlessly in the way of spiritual dangers, and do not manifest by watchfulness and prayer a sense of the temptations to which he is exposed, how can we suppose that the faith which is so inoperative in producing that salutary fear and trembling, in which salvation is to be worked out, can have more life in it than the withered hand from which power and sensation have withdrawn, and which is, in consequence, no longer an agent between the soul of man and the external world. This doctrine that faith may be dead is a very important truth to have communicated, because it has a directly practical tendency. If faith as well as other qualities may decay, it, as well as others, requires exercise to keep its influence alive. We know perfectly well that everything human languishes and decays if suffered to remain in a state of inaction; we know that strength of body and strength of mind both require exercise for their continuance; we know that every sense we possess, by judicious exercise acquires increased power, and that when unexercised its power invariably declines--the doctrine of my text informs us that it is thus with faith also. Let us suppose that there is lodged in the heart of a man a true faith in Christ--the natural result would be that his works should correspond with his belief, and that he will deny his appetites, and moderate his desires, and regulate all his affections in such a manner as to make his life an illustration of his principles. Now, it is evident, that the power of his faith will be increasing, according as it is thus successfully exercised. Every victory it gains over some darling affection, or some tempting sin--every triumph it wins over any sordid or narrow interest, will add to its power--it will be gaining over gradually to its own interest and its own views all those forces in the heart of man which he had lately given as auxiliaries to the passions within him, and the temptations which continually surround him. Ask yourselves, then, are your works such as to strengthen your faith, or is your faith weak, because your works are few? Your hopes of heaven must rest upon your faith, but faith requires works for its support. What is the reason why our faith in the world where we live is so strong? Because we are continually exercised in the works of it--because our senses are impressed by its appearances, and our passions agitated by its excitements, and our minds engaged by its interests. Learn wisdom from the children of this world. Let the powers in us which belong to God derive instruction from our inferior nature, and then we shall have faith in God established within us, firm as is our faith in the world. And what are those means appointed by God to keep our faith alive, the neglect of which will cause its decay? They are the duties which devolve upon us from the relations in which we stand towards God and towards our brethren--the duties which originate in our hopes of heaven and our station upon earth. (M. O’Sullivan, M. A.)
Works through faith
The hardest battle which Christianity has to fight in the world is not the battle against heathenism or against ignorance or against atheism. These are hard battles enough, as all who have fought them know; but the hardest of all is the battle against unreality. A missionary may convert a village, a town, a tribe, to the faith of Christ; a Christian worker may make himself a centre of Divine light and knowledge in some city den of thieves and outcasts where God was unknown before: there are Christian champions in plenty to repel the assaults of those who attack, from this side or that, the premises or the conclusions of the Christian faith. But how few are those who, not being the heralds of a new religion, lacking the stimulus of the novel or the strange, without the excitement of a controversial straggle, have Caught men to be Christians inwardly; who, brought face to face with professing believers, have persuaded them not to be content with a religion of formulas and congregations and a conventional morality, but have brought it home to them that that is not all of Christianity; that Christianity is not simply a system of belief or of moral practice, but that in its highest embodiment it is the holiness which is born, and born necessarily, not of an assent to a creed, not of obedience to a law, but of faith in a Person. Now this battle against unreality was, in the very essence of it, the battle which Christ had to fight and did fight in His life in the world. All religious faith must have a moral as well as an intellectual element in it; and (let me insist upon it for a moment) in attacking the Judaism of His day, Christ was attacking it upon its moral rather than its intellectual side. There wore three different developments of national pride in the Jews which combined to make their religion the barren tree it was. One was their pride in their descent: “We have Abraham to our father.” Another pride was in their law; in their own knowledge of its requirements, and the exhaustive fashion in which some of them, at any rate, strove to fulfil them. The third kind of pride was a pride in their belief--their belief in the one God, Jehovah the God of Israel. It was to all this unmeaning belief, to this religion which was only self-satisfaction, to this faith which enlisted only the lower and more mechanical powers of the mind, and hardly touched the heart at all; it was to this that Christ came and opposed His religion. And there is nothing, perhaps, more remarkable in His teaching than the absence of any attempt to formulate a creed, or to set forth a precise statement of doctrine. But if this comparative absence of doctrine pure and simple in Christ’s teaching is remarkable, no less remarkable is its appearance, and the transcendent importance given to it, directly He is gone from the scene. What is the reason of the change? If Christ had not thought this necessary, why should His apostles introduce it? The answer is not far to seek. Christ had done His work: He had laid the foundations of the faith--laid them strong and immovable in the personal love of His followers to a personal Leader and Saviour. But something more was requisite. If His work was to have, under human conditions, a permanent influence upon generations yet unborn, it must have an abiding centre from which this influence could radiate. This centre was the Christian Church. But it would have been in vain for the Church to content herself with precepts of holiness, and to leave the truth about the Author of holiness and the way of attaining it to take care of themselves. Men will not rally round a standard the motto of which is simply goodness. They must have something more definite: something which appeals directly to the mind, upon which the reason can fasten. And so the Christian creed, which in Christ’s own lifetime had remained in the background, not because it was unimportant but because it was rather taken for granted, came into a prominence that it has never lost. If we look at the history of the Christian Church since the days of its Founder, we shall see that the great crises in its career have been crises when doctrines rather than morality have been at stake. Truth can count a thousand martyrs for every one that goodness has. And if you turn to modern religious circles, the same holds good there. You know how much readier people of the professedly religious type are to condone a moral peccadillo here and there than to forgive an error in doctrine: how much easier it is to collect a multitude that will rob a church where the service offends their beliefs or their prejudices, than one that will pull down a gin-shop where souls for which Christ has died are sold daily and nightly over the counter. The enthusiasm of opinion is far commoner, far more readily roused, than the enthusiasm of right-doing. But is this precedence given to truth over goodness entirely wrong? Are we to depose faith once for all, and enthrone morality in its place? Assuredly not. Bat for all that, there are two things which are of paramount importance for us to settle before we attach a supreme value to faith in a creed. One is what we include in a creed; the other is what we mean by faith. There are at the present time two opposite tendencies about creeds between which it is not wholly easy to steer. One is to regard all of them alike, as the same or nearly the same in value and authority: to “sit as God, holding no form of creed, but contemplating all.” Assuredly, I do not envy the man who cannot see in the higher religions of the non-Christian world a thousand elements of what is noble and godlike. But it is one thing to allow that, and wholly another to say that the difference between Christ and these other founders, between the faith of Christ and their faiths, is only one of degree. If there is no Christian revelation, Christianity ceases to be a religion and becomes only a moral system: and if in Christ there has been a revelation, however incomplete, however limited, it is an essential part of it, as we have it--that it is the one authoritative revelation which God has made of Himself to the world. The other tendency is to go on enlarging indefinitely the area of what is held to be vital and essential in the Christian creed, to go on including in it point after point of debatable belief, until it covers almost the whole field of theology. There is nothing more dangerous than this tendency to multiply the vital elements in the Christian creed. In human belief there are three things, one of which will always vary in inverse ratio to the other two. One is the amount which men are asked to believe; the second is the number of those who will believe it; the third is the thoroughness, and by that I mean both the honesty and completeness, of their belief. If a creed is too minute in his details and too wide in its area, either people will not believe it, or they will accept it superficially or hypocritically. If we would have a universal Church, either its creed must be a simple one or there will be this half-and-half acceptance of it. If we would have a thorough and complete belief, either the creed must not be a complicated one, or we shall shut out from the Church the great mass of reasoning men. And if God has given us a revelation which confessedly leaves much unrevealed, if the utterances of the Church supplementing that revelation are on certain points but tentative and hesitating, is it a false inference to make that God meant the mind of man to exercise itself upon the great questions which concern the Divine nature and counsels, as well as upon those which concern only man and the world--to find a field, not only in all earthly knowledge, but in the science of sciences, the science of the nature of God as revealed in the history of His dealings with man? If so, the creed of a true Church will be one which has indeed a heart of rock, immovable and fast, in the great central truths of the faith, for without that it would be a mere floating island, disappearing and reappearing in a sea of doubt; and yet one which is content to leave unfixed much about which Christians will think differently as long as human reason is imperfect and the light from above but partial. And when we pass from creeds to our belief in them, from the matter of faith to faith itself, how narrow and mistaken is the common view of ill “Faith and works,” cries the superficial student of God’s Word, “at what opposite poles these stand!” Will men never see what the apostles saw plainly enough, that faith and works only differ as cause and effect, as the courage which moves to heroic deeds differs from the heroic deeds to which it moves us? that, to put it in another way, faith is a work of the mind and heart, works but the expression in outward act of some faith or other within? Will men never remember that deeds have no moral value in themselves apart from the motive which inspires them? When man slays man, is it the feet that are swift to shed blood, or the hands that are red with the stains of it, that are to blame? Does charity lie in the fingers that drop the coin into the alms-box, or that put the cup to the mouth of the dying? Does self-restraint reside only in the lips that close upon the angry word? Nay, there is no virtue in an act by itself--it is the motive in the heart that makes it good or bad. And it is so with the beliefs of the mind. There is no spiritual value in mere belief, even of religious truths; it is the heart with which men go to meet the truth, the honesty, the reverence, the fear with which they desire to look into it, that Rives it its worth. Faith and works alike are on one side, the outcome of what is best in man towards God; on the other, they are alike His gifts, as every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. (H. A. James, B. D.)
Faith and works
Religion may be described in general terms as consisting of knowledge and practice, the first of which is no farther useful than as it tends to produce and encourage the second. The Almighty has not revealed to us the knowledge of Himself and His will merely for the improvement of our understanding, but for the amendment of our lives; not to entertain our minds with abstract speculations, but to govern our actions and to form our souls to virtue. Faith, indeed, is not, like the moral virtues, destroyed by a simple omission of its proper acts; yet, by continued negligence, it will imperceptibly die away, and give place to infidelity; not perhaps to open and declared infidelity, but to a secret kind, which seems to be the most prevailing sin of this age. The progress of this decay is easily traced through all its steps and degrees. By intermitting the practice of those religious duties which faith binds us to we lose all taste and affection for them; soon after they become the objects of weariness and disgust, feelings which excite us powerfully to throw them off entirely by secretly renouncing that faith which imposeth so heavy a load. The substance of faith being corrupted, there remains no more than an empty shadow, worse in the sight of God than pagan infidelity, because it is infidelity raised upon the rocks and ruins of Divine faith. It must be confessed that a habit of faith may exist in the soul without acting, but still no wise man will depend on such a faith for his justification. A thousand enemies wage eternal war against it; and when it lays aside good works, which are its only weapons of defence, it must of necessity be vanquished. Besides, if we consider faith in another view, as a supernatural grace bestowed by God, its connection with good works will still appear more evident. For, faith being given us only for action, all its virtue is reduced to this--that it is proper for raising in the soul a desire for those good things which it reveals: its only employment being to support man in the execution of his Christian duties; when it produceth nothing of this kind, the Almighty is concerned even for His own glory to withdraw it. It is thus that we may sometimes see the most sublime geniuses, the most penetrating and soaring spirits, fall into the grossest errors, and wander in utter darkness, acknowledging neither God, nor faith, nor law. Thus the neglect of good works, we see, brings on the extinction of faith; and so far, therefore, they appear absolutely necessary. But we may farther observe that good works, sincerely and fervently practised, are the only means to arrive at the perfection of faith, or to strengthen a faith that is weak and languishing; and this second truth is capable of illustration, both from reason and authority. I give a remarkable example of it, in the person of the centurion Cornelius, who, from an obscure and confused belief which he had of the mysteries of God, arrived at the clear, distinct, and perfect faith of a Christian. God had regard to the works of piety and mercy which Cornelius continually performed, and sent an apostle to instruct him, and prepare him for baptism. Let us, like him, be pious, zealous, honest, and charitable; and we shall see whether that God, who is ever faithful in His promises, will not by His Holy Spirit increase and strengthen our faith. We cannot, perhaps, at present serve God, nor fulfil His law, with that vivacity and assurance of faith which all His saints have shown; but we can interest the Almighty in our favour. By regulating our family; by doing justice to all the world; by inspiring the love of virtue among our friends; by employing other and more powerful intercessors, which are the poor and the needy; we may incline God to restore us that spirit of religion which is well-nigh lost. Every charitable action we perform, every assistance we bring to the ruined or afflicted, every prayer we breathe to Heaven, will serve to rekindle our wavering faith. We have always sufficient faith to enable us to begin this work, and sufficient to condemn us, indeed, if we begin it not. What was it inspired Cornelius with so much fervour in his prayers and his charities? He believed in a God, the rewarder of virtue and avenger of vice; and this made him conclude that, being rich, he was obliged to be charitable; that, being a father, he was obliged to teach his children the duties of religion; that, being a master, he was obliged to give good example to his domestics; that, being a man and a sinner, he was obliged to pray and to perform works of penitence. Do we not, like him, believe in a God? and, in the profoundest abysses of libertinism, do we not still preserve that ray of light which nature herself affords to point out the existence of a Deity? We have then sufficient faith for a beginning, and sufficient to engage us in the duties of piety and charity, in the accomplishment of which our faith shall be infallibly perfected. Let us then address our prayers to God, to beg His assistance in our works of faith; and, aided by Him, let us go on with increasing ardour and activity. Moved by our filial confidence, He will hearken to our prayers; our weak and cold faith shall revive within us, and we shall revive with it. By superior diligence our former losses shall be repaired, and our light grow clear in proportion to our good works. In the end we shall be found worthy of this sentence from our Judge--“As thou hast believed, so be it unto thee.” Thou hast improved the talent which was intrusted to thy care; thou hast “shown thy faith by thy works”: come and receive thy reward. Thou hast trod with firm perseverance the path which thy faith traced out, and still had an eye to the recompense which it discovered to thee: come, take possession of the heavenly kingdom, and enjoy eternal felicity. (A. Macdonald.)
Justification, according to St. Paul and St. James
In the fourteenth verse we find the apostle putting a question, and asking, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works: can faith save him?” Here the important word in the question is the word “say” though a man say he hath faith. The apostle does not write it thus--“What does it profit if a man have faith?” That indeed would be a direct contradiction to the whole of Scripture; for, wherever our acceptance before God is spoken of, “faith” is spoken of as the instrumental cause of that acceptance. But he asks, What good will it do a man to say he has faith, while he shows no proof that he has it in his works? Will such a faith as that (for that is the exact force of the Greek article in the original)--will such a faith as that save him? He then illustrates and explains this in the following verses, by another question, which our common sense at once answers, and by a case, of which a very child can see the force. We remark, then, that the drift of St. James’s reasoning, as we have seen it hitherto, is not to affirm that our works are the ground of our acceptance and the instrumented cause of our justification, but simply that they are the evidences and fruits of that faith which justifieth. So that, while the principle of faith, being seated in the heart (for “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness”) is not seen or discerned by any, but is hidden within the heart, as the living sap is hidden within the tee; yet the good works, which are the inseparable fruits of faith, and follow after justification, are evident, as the apples, leaves, and blossoms prove, though we cannot see it, that the sap of life is at work within the tree. We see that, so far from St. James being at variance with St. Paul, the two inspired apostles perfectly agree. St. James here brings forward the same passage Genesis 15:6, as St. Paul quotes in Romans 4:5; and therefore both the apostles must mean the same things, as both bring forward the same passage of the Word of God. The object o! the apostle St. Paul, in that passage of his Epistle to the Romans, is to show the way in which we are accepted before God; of St. James, in this passage, to show what is the proof of our acceptance before men. St. James, however, seeing that many laid claim to this faith who had it not, saw it necessary to show that saving faith must be justified, i.e., proved to be saving faith before men by works of righteousness, that, where no works of righteousness were to be seen in the life, there then could be no saving faith in the heart; and that those who talked of faith, and said they had faith when they gave no evidence of it before men in their lives, had not that faith of Abraham, who, because he trusted and believed God’s word, was able to give up his son, his only son; or Rahab, who, because she believed, risked her life to receive the spies, and so found it. We see, then, that the one apostle, St. Paul, shows us that we are justified by faith alone, the other, St. James, that the faith on account of which we are justified is never alone or without works; and that, if it is alone, it is not saving faith, but the faith (if it may be called such) of devils and hypocrites. Let us remember that, though good works are not the ground of our acceptance--for that rests entirely on Christ’s finished work; “and we ever look to be found in Him, not having our own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith”--still they are sweet evidences of our acceptance, as they show that our “faith is the faith of God’s elect”; because it is “not barren nor unfruitful”: they prove that we are “trees of righteousness, which the Lord hath planted”; because they are full of sap; because they bring forth their fruit in its season; because, having been planted in the house of the Lord, they flourish in the courts of the house of our God; because they bring forth more fruit in their age; and because they have faith for their fixed, unswerving root, fastened unto Christ; drinking life and nourishment from His grace and fulness; therefore their boughs are clad with the fair fruit of “virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, loving-kindness, godliness, and charity.” (W. Weldon.Champneys, M. A.)
A dead faith
1. A dead faith is that which dwells only on the tongue, not in the heart; which produces no good works, but is alone, and without holy fruits. It does not work by love, and so resembles the faith of the devils; it leads to no self-denying sacrifice; it produces no esteem for the people of God, and no willingness to cast in one’s lot with them. Such are some of the marks of a dead faith, which the apostle compares to a body without the spirit. What a striking comparison this! The body may be perfectly formed, but if there be no spirit within, no breath to animate the form, it is but a lump of clay; it wants its best part. So with faith, if without energy, love, and holiness; it may be perfect in its outward form, correct in all its lineaments, yet it evidently has no breath of the Spirit of God within; it is a dull, cold, heavy, lifeless thing.
2. Again, the body without the spirit is incapable of performing its proper functions. Speak to it, it hears you not; touch it, it feels not; weep over it, it sheds no tear of sympathy in return; rejoice over it, but its eyes sparkle not, its tongue makes no respond of joy. Then you have work to do, the work of the Christians life; it works not with you, it is motionless, insensible, dead. So with the faith which is not quickened and penetrated by the Holy Spirit: it is incapable of performing the proper functions of faith; it hears not aright the Word of God; it feels not the love of Christ; it weeps not with them that weep for sin; it cannot rejoice in spiritual joys; it works not for God; it moves not towards Him in grateful love; it is insensible as to His grace; it is a dead thing.
3. Yet, again, the body without the spirit is an offensive object. So it is with the faith, which has no spiritual life within it; it is an offensive object with God; it arrogates so high a name, it pretends to so much, it takes the place of such a better thing; and then it produces nothing but dead works and corrupt fruits, and is a loathsome thing in the sight of a holy living God.
4. And yet, once more, the body without the spirit is dead, and none but God can give it life. So with the man whose faith is a dead faith; he must be quickened by God, raised from the death of sin, experience the power and grace of a risen Saviour, or he will never see life. (J. H. Hambleton.)
We are justified freely, by grace (Romans 3:24); meritoriously, by Christ (Romans 5:19); instrumentally, by faith
139 Romans 5:1); evidentially, by good works (James 2:26). (William Marsh, D. D.)
A child of God cannot live an ungodly life
Rev. J. A. Methuen once asked a labouring man what he thought of antinomianism, and whether he conceived it possible for a child of God to live an ungodly life? He received this answer: “Mr. Methuen, if I pour boiling water into a cup, it makes the outside hot as well as the inside. So, sir, when the gospel once gets into a man’s heart, the life will soon show it’s there.” (Sword and Trowel.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "James 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent