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From whence come wars and fightings?
Wars and fighting--whence they proceed
I. THE QUESTION PROPOSED (James 4:1). We have no very particular information as to the nature of these contests, the parties by whom they were waged, or the matters to which they related. Able interpreters have connected them with the civil, political conflicts which agitated the Jewish people at this period of their history, and prepared the way for the memorable destruction which soon came on them at the hands of the victorious Romans. But it would appear, from what is added, that they were rather struggles about ordinary temporal affairs--about influence, reputation, position, and especially property, money, gains--what more than once the apostle calls “filthy lucre.” What they sought was prosperity of that earthly kind; and all striving to secure it they got into collision--they envied, jostled, assailed, injured one another. Alas! this state of things has not been confined to the early age, nor to Jewish converts. What wars and fightings still among the members of the Church! Oh, what controversies and contentions! What angry passions, bitter rivalries, furious contests among the professed disciples of the same Master, the adherents of that gospel which is all animated with love, and pregnant with peace!
II. THE ANSWER GIVEN.
1. The prevalence of lust. And what were these lusts? Just those which are most characteristic of human nature as fallen, and the working of which we see continually around us in the world. There was pride, a high, inordinate opinion of themselves, of their own merits and claims, leading them to aim at sell-exaltation, at authority, pre-eminence--envy, grudging at the prosperity of others, prompting efforts to pull them down and climb into their places--avarice, covetousness, the love of money, the desire to be rich, stirring up all kinds of evil passions, and giving rise to crooked designs and plots of every description. These and such like are always the true cause of our wars and fightings. No doubt the world allures, the devil tempts--no doubt there are many incitements and influences at work all around by which Christians are more or less affected. But what gives them their power? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” It is thronged with lusts, it is inflammable, and hence the spark falling on it is enough to wrap it in the flames of devouring passion. “Which war in your members.” These are the bodily organs, and also the mental faculties, especially the former. The lusts are attached to them, connected with them, as the instruments by which they work, through which they come into active and open manifestation. “Ye lust, and have not”--have not what you so strongly and irregularly desire. Hew often are those who give way to such covetous cravings doomed to bitter disappointment! What the parties had not in this instance were those worldly gains and other advantages on which their hearts were set, and for which they strained and struggled. We have now a farther step, and a terrible one, taken under the influence of this lust. “Ye kill, and desire to have.” Ye kill--that is, ye murder.” It is possible to kill in other ways than by dealing a fatal blow, giving the poisonous draught, or committing any deed by which a charge of murder could be substantiated. By envious rivalries and bitter animosities by false accusations and cruel persecutions--we may wound the spirit, weaken the strength, and shorten the days ofour fellow creatures. We may as truly take away the life as if we used some lethal weapon for the purpose. “And desire to have”--desire in an eager, even an envious manner, as the words signifies; for this was what dictated the murder spoken of, and, remaining after its perpetration, sought, through the medium of it, the coveted object or pleasure. “And cannot obtain.” No; not even after employing such dreadful means for the purpose. Ye get not the satisfaction ye craved and expected--often not so much as the thing in which ye looked for that satisfaction. How frequently does this happen! Under the influence of insatiable cravings, men silence the voice of conscience, set at nought the restraints of law, trample on honour, principle, life itself; and, after all, either miss what they dare and sacrifice so much for, or get it only to find that what they imagined would be sweet, is utterly insipid, if not intensely bitter. They lose their pains; their killing, while a crime, proves also a mistake.
2. The neglect or abuse of prayer. They sought not from God the blessings they were so anxious to obtain. Had they taken their requests to God a twofold result would have ensued. Their immoderate desires had been checked, abated--the bringing of them into contact with His holy presence must have had a rectifying influence. Then, so far as lawful, as for their own good and the Divine glory, their petition had been granted. Thus their wars and fightings would have been prevented, their evil tendencies would have been repressed, and the disastrous effects they produced have been prevented. But some might repel the charge and say, “We do ask.” The apostle anticipates such a defence, and so proceeds, “Ye ask and receive not.” How does that happen? Does it not contradict the explanation of the not having which had now been presented? Does it not run directly in opposition to the Lord’s express promise, “Ask, and ye shall receive”? No; for he adds, assigning the reason of the failure--“Because ye ask amiss,” badly, with evil intent. Ye do it in a spirit and for a purpose that are not good, but evil. It is not forbidden to seek temporal gains; but they did it not to apply them to proper objects, but to expend them in selfish, if not impure gratifications. Nothing is more common. Why, we may even plead for spiritual blessings in the same manner. We may supplicate wisdom, not to glorify God by it, but to exalt ourselves--not to benefit our brethren by it, but to make it conduce to our own pride and importance. We may ask pardon merely for the safety it involves, for the comfort it brings, from a regard to ease and enjoyment, and not to any higher and holier purpose. We may make grace the minister of sin, and value it for the release from restraint--the liberty to live as we please which it is supposed to confer. Of course, such prayers are not answered. They are an insult to the Majesty of heaven. They are a profanation of the Holiest. (John Adam.)
Serious reflections on war
I. This subject naturally leads us to reflect upon THE FALLEN, DEGENERATE STATE OF HUMAN NATURE. What is this world but a field of battle? What is the history of nations, from their first rise to the present day, but a tragical story of contests, struggles for dominion, encroachments upon the possessions of others?
II. This subject may naturally lead us to reflect upon THE JUST RESENTSIENTS OF GOD AGAINST THE SIN OF MAN. As innocent creatures, under the influence of universal benevolence, would not injure one another, or fly to war, so God would not suffer the calamities of war to fall upon them because they would not deserve it. But alas! mankind have revolted from God, and He employs them to avenge His quarrel and do the part of executioners upon one another.
III. The consideration of war, as proceeding from the lusts of men, may excite us to THE MOST ZEALOUS ENDEAVOURS, IN OUR RESPECTIVE CHARACTERS, TO PROMOTE A REFORMATION. Let our lives be a loud testimony against the wickedness of the times; and a living recommendation of despised religion.
IV. The consideration of war as proceeding from the lusts of men, may make us sensible of our NEED OF AN OUTPOURING OF THE DIVINE SPIRIT. Love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, are mentioned by St. Paul as the fruit of the Spirit, because the Spirit alone is the author of them. And if these dispositions were predominant in the world, what a calm, pacific region would it be, undisturbed with the hurricanes of human passions.
V. The consideration of the present commotions among the kingdoms of the world may CARRY OUR THOUGHTS FORWARD to that happy period which our religion teaches us to hope for, when the kingdom of Christ, the Prince of Peace, shall be extended over the world, and His benign, pacific religion shall be propagated among all nations. Conclusion:
1. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.”
2. “Pray without ceasing.” (S. Davies, M. A.)
Contention in a community
1. Lust is the makebait in a community. Covetousness, pride, and ambition make men injurious and insolent.
(1) Covetousness maketh us to contend with those that have anything that we covet, as Ahab with Naboth.
(2) Pride is the cockatrice egg that discloseth the fiery flying serpent Proverbs 13:10).
(3) Ambition. Diotrephes’ loving the pre-eminence disturbed the Churches of Asia (3 John 1:10).
(4) Envy. Abraham and Lot’s herdsmen fell out (Genesis 13:7).
2. When evils abound in a place it is good to look after the rise and cause of them. Men engage in a heat, and do not know wherefore: usually lust is at the bottom; the sight of the cause will shame us.
3. Lust is a tyrant that warreth in the soul, and warreth against the soul.
(1) It warreth in the soul; it abuseth your affections, to carry on the rebellion against heaven (Galatians 5:17).
(2) It warreth against the soul (1 Peter 2:11). (T. Manton.)
Lusts the causes of strife
“Wars” and “fightings” are not to be understood literally. St. James is referring to private quarrels and law-suits, social rivalries and factions, and religious controversies. The subject-matter of these disputes and contentions is not indicated because that is not what is denounced. It is not for having differences about this or that, whether rights of property, or posts of honour, or ecclesiastical questions, that St. James rebukes them, but for the rancorous, greedy, and worldly spirit in which their disputes are conducted. Evidently the lust of possession is among the things which produce the contentions. Jewish appetite for wealth is at work among them. “Whence wars, and whence fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your pleasures which war in your members?” By a common transposition, St. James, in answering his own question, puts the pleasures which excite and gratify the lusts instead of the lusts themselves, in much the same way as we use “drink” for intemperance, and “gold” for avarice. These lusts for pleasures have their quarters or camp in the members of our body--i.e., in the sensual part of man’s nature. But they are there, not to rest, but to make war, to go after, and seize, and take for a prey that which has roused them from their quietude and set them in motion. There the picture, as drawn by St. James, ends. St. Paul carries it a stage farther (Romans 7:23). St. Paul does the 1 Peter 2:11). In the Phaedo of Plato
(66, 67) there is a beautiful passage which presents some striking coincidences with the words of St. James. “Wars, and factions, and fightings have no other source than the body and its lusts. For it is for the getting of wealth that all our wars arise, and we are compelled to get wealth because of our body, to whose service we are slaves; and in consequence we have no leisure for philosophy because of all these things. And the worst of all is that if we get any leisure from it, and turn to some question, in the midst of our inquiries the body is everywhere coming in, introducing turmoil and confusion, and bewildering us, so that by it we are prevented from seeing the truth. But, indeed, it has been proved to us that if we are ever to have pure knowledge of anything we must get rid of the body, and with the soul by itself must behold things by themselves. Then, it would seem, we shall obtain the wisdom which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers; when we are dead, as the argument shows, but in this life not. For if it be impossible while we are in the body to have pure knowledge of anything, then of two things one--either knowledge is not to be obtained at all, or after we are dead; for then the soul will be by itself, apart from the body, but before that not. And in this life, it would seem, we shall make the nearest approach to knowledge if we have no communication or fellowship whatever with the body, beyond what necessity compels, and are not filled with its nature, but remain pure from its taint until God Himself shall set us free. And in this way shall we be pure, being delivered from the foolishness of the body, and shall be with other like souls, and shall know of ourselves all that is clear and cloudless, and that is perhaps all one with the truth.” Plato and St. James are entirely agreed in holding that wars and fightings are caused by the lusts that have their seat in the body, and that this condition of fightings without, and lusts within, is quite incompatible with the possession of heavenly wisdom. But there the agreement between them ceases. The conclusion which Plato arrives at is that the philosopher must, so far as is possible, neglect and excommunicate his body, as an intolerable source of corruption, yearning for the time when death shall set him free from the burden of waiting upon this obstacle between his soul and the truth. Plato has no idea that the body may be sanctified here and glorified hereafter; he regards it simply as a necessary evil, which may be minimised by watchfulness, but which can in no way be turned into a blessing. The blessing will come when the body is annihilated by death. St. James, on the contrary, exhorts us to cut ourselves off, not from the body, but from friendship with the world. Even in this life the wisdom that is from above is attainable, and where that has found a home factions and fightings cease. When the passions cease to war those who have hitherto been swayed by their passions will cease to war also. (A. Plummer, D. D.)
The word translated “lusts” is used to express the pleasure of the senses, and hence sometimes signifies strong desire for such gratification. In this picturesque sentence, these are represented as warriors spreading themselves through “the members,” seizing the body as the instrument for the accomplishing of their designs and the gaining of their ends. It is the desire for greater territories, larger incomes, more splendour, wider indulgence in physical pleasures, greater gratification of their pride and ambition, which lead kings to war. Every war has begun in sin. It is so in religious circles. The pride of opinion, the love of rule, the enjoyment of more renown for numbers and wealth and influence, have led sects and Churches into all the persecution and so-called religious wars which have disgraced the cause of truth, and discouraged the aspirations of the good, and increased the infidelity of the world. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)
But is there nothing to be said in favour of war? There is one thing often said of it--namely, that, in spite of its horror, and folly, and wickedness, it evokes courage, magnanimity, heroism, self-sacrifice. There has been much eloquence expended on this theme; but good Dr. Johnson said all that was necessary on the matter long ago. Boswell writes: “Dr. Johnson laughed at Lord Kames’s opinion that war was a good thing occasionally, as so much valour and virtue were exhibited in it. ‘A fire,’ said the Doctor, ‘might as well be considered a good thing. There are the bravery and address of the firemen in extinguishing it; there is much humanity exerted in saving the lives and properties of the poor sufferers. Yet, after all this, who can say that a fire is a good thing?’” But what is the Christian principle about war? For our religion, if it is good for anything, must be good for everything; it must have an authoritative word on this matter. Murder is not less murder because a man puts on a red coat to do it in; it is not less murder because a thousand go out to do it together. There are no earthly orders which may countermand the commandment of God. In the first two centuries of the Christian Church this was so well understood that Celsus, in his attack upon Christianity, says “that the State received no help in war from the Christians, and that, if all men were to follow their example, the sovereign would be deserted and the world would fall into the hands of the barbarians.” To which Origen answered as follows
“The question is--What would happen if the Romans should be persuaded to adopt the principles of the Christians?… This is my answer--We say that if two of us shall agree on earth as touching anything thatthey shall ask, it shall be done for them by the Father who is in heaven. What, then, are we to expect, if not only a very few should agree, as at present, but the whole empire of Rome? They would pray to the Word, who of old said to the Hebrews, when pursued by the Egyptians, ‘The Lord shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.’” What Origen and other great teachers said many Christians heeded, and there were men who refused to enter the army, although the penalty of their refusal was death. The Quaker-like sentiment and principle of the Church was changed when the Church was established and protected by Constantine, and from various causes, into which we need not enter, since the discussion would have a somewhat academic tinge, and we are concerned with a practical question. In the Middle Ages soldiering became more reputable than ever through the rise of the Mohammedan power and the institution of chivalry. And for all practical purposes Christendom is still unchristian so far as war is concerned. That is true in spite of all the understandings about the illegitimacy of certain materials and methods, in spite of all the hospital staff and the nurses, and the other efforts to palliate the horrors of sweeping and scientific murder. (J. A. Hamilton.)
Men’s love of stride
Lord Palmerston, in a short letter to Mr. Cobden, said, “Man is a fighting and quarrelling animal.” (Justin McCarthy.)
Peace among men is the consequence of peace in men. (Viedebandt.)
Desires increase with acquisition; every step a man advances brings something within his view which he did not see before, and which, as soon as he sees it he begins to want. Where necessity ends, curiosity begins; and no sooner are we supplied with everything that nature can demand than we contrive artificial appetites. (Dr. Johnson,.)
Ye lust and have not
1. Lustings are astrally disappointed. God loveth to cross desires when they are inordinate; His hand is straitened when our desires are enlarged.
(1) Sometimes in mercy (Hosea 2:7). Prosperous and successful wickedness encourageth a man to go on in that way; some rubs are an advantage.
(2) Sometimes in judgment, that He may torment men by their own lusts; their desires prove their just torture. The blood heated by intemperance, and the heart enlarged by desire, are both of them sins that bring with them their own punishment, especially when they meet with disappointment. Learn, then, that when the heart is too much set upon anything, it is the ready way to miss it. When you forget to subject your desires to God’s will, you shall understand the sovereignty of it. Be not always troubled when you cannot have your will; you have cause to bless God. It is a mercy when carnal desires are disappointed; say as David (1 Samuel 25:32). It teacheth you what reflections to make upon yourselves in case of disappointment. When we miss any worldly thing that we have desired, say, Have not I lusted after this? Did not I covet it too earnestly? Absalom was the greater curse to David because he loved him too much. Inordinate longings make the affections miscarry.
2. Where there is covetousness there is usually strife, envy, and emulation. Ye lust; ye kill; ye emulate--these hang in a string. As there is a connection and a cognation between virtues and graces--they go hand in hand--so there is a link between sins--they seldom go alone. If a man be a drunkard, he will be a wanton; if he be covetous, he will be envious.
3. It is lust and covetousness that is most apt to trouble neighbourhoods and vicinities (Proverbs 15:27). Covetousness maketh men of such a harsh and sour disposition. Towards God it is idolatry; it robbeth Him of one of the flowers of His crown, the trust of the creature; and it is the bane of human societies. Why are men’s hearts besotted with that which is even the reproach and defamation of their natures?
4. Lust will put men not only upon dishonest endeavours, but unlawful means, to accomplish their ends, killing, and warring, and fighting, etc. Bad means will suit well enough with base ends; they resolve to have it; any means will serve the turn, so they may satisfy their thirst of gain (1 Timothy 6:9).
5. Do wicked men what they can, when God setteth against them their endeavours are frustrated (Psalms 33:10).
6. It is not good to engage in any undertaking without prayer. That no actions must be taken in hand but such as we can commend to God in prayer; such enterprises we must not engage in as we dare not communicate to God in our supplications (Isaiah 29:15). (T. Manton.)
Lusting and murder
If we remember the state of Jewish society, the bands of robber-outlaws, of whom Barabbas was a type, the “four thousand men who were murderers” of Acts 21:38, the bands of zealots and Sicarii who were prominent in the tumults that preceded the final war with Rome, it will not seem so startling that St. James should emphasise his warning by beginning with the words “Ye murder.” In such a state of society murder is often the first thing that a man thinks of as a means to gratify his desires, not, as with us, a last resource when other means have failed. (Dean Plumptre.)
Was the picture true?
There was, perhaps, a grim truth in the picture which St. James draws. It was after the deed was done that the murderers began to quarrel over the division of the spoil, and found themselves as unsatisfied as before, still not able to obtain that on which they had set their hearts, and so plunging into fresh quarrels, ending as they began, in bloodshed. (Dean Plumptre.)
Lusting, yet lacking
There is no sowing in a storm. (J. Trapp.)
Ye have not, because ye ask not
The causes of spiritual destitution
I. THE CAUSE IS SOMETIMES NON-ASKING. There are some blessings that God gives without asking--such as being, faculties, seasons, elements of nature, &c.; others that He gives only for asking--spiritual blessings.
1. What does prayer do?
(1) It effects no alteration in the plan of God.
(2) It cannot inform the Almighty of anything of which tie was before ignorant.
(3) It does not give a claim to the Divine favours.
(1) It does fulfil a condition of Divine beneficence.
(2) It does bring the mind into vital contact with its Maker.
(3) It does deepen our sense of dependence upon God.
(4) It does fill the soul with the idea of mediation; for all prayer is “in the name of Christ.”
II. THE CAUSE IS SECRETARIES WRONG ASKING.
1. TO pray insincerely is to pray amiss.
2. Without earnestness.
3. Without faith.
4. Without surrendering our being to God. (D. Thomas.)
Ask and have
Man is a creature abounding in wants, and ever restless, and hence his heart is full of desires. Man is comparable to the sea anemone, with its multitude of tentacles which are always hunting in the water for food; or like certain plants which send out tendrils, seeking after the means of climbing. The poet says, “Man never is, but always to be, blest.” This fact appertains both to the worst and the best of men. In bad men desires corrupt into lusts: they long after that which is selfish, sensual, and consequently evil. In gracious men there are desires also. Their desires are after the best things-things pure and peaceable, laudable and elevating. They desire God’s glory, and hence their desires spring from higher motives than those which inflame the unrenewed mind. Such desires in Christian men are frequently very fervent and forcible; they ought always to be so; and those desires begotten of the Spirit of God stir the renewed nature, exciting and stimulating it, and making the man to groan and to be in anguish until he can attain that which God has taught him to long for. The lusting of the wicked and the holy desiring of the righteous have their own ways of seeking gratification. The lusting of the wicked develops itself in contention; it kills, and desires to have; it fights, and it wars; while, on the other hand, the desire of the righteous, when rightly guided, betakes itself to a far better course for achieving its purpose, for it expresses itself in prayer fervent and importunate. The godly man, when full of desire, asks and receives at the hand of God.
I. THE POVERTY OF LUSTING. “Ye lust, and have not.” Carnal lustings, however strong they may be, do not in many cases obtain that which they seek after. The man longs to be happy, but he is not; he pines to be great, but he grows meaner every day; he aspires after this and after that which he thinks will content him, but he is still unsatisfied; he is like the troubled sea which cannot rest. One way or another his life is disappointment; he labours as in the very fire, but the result is vanity and vexation of spirit. How can it be otherwise? If we sow the wind, must we not reap the whirlwind, and nothing else? Or, if peradventure the strong lustings of an active, talented, persevering man do give him what he seeks after, yet how soon he loses it. The pursuit is toilsome, but the possession is a dream. He sits down to eat, and lo! the feast is snatched away, the cup vanishes when it is at his lip. He wins to lose; he builds, and his sandy foundation slips from under his tower, and it lies in ruins. Or if such men have gifts and power enough to retain that which they have won, yet in another sense they have it not while they have it, for the pleasure which they looked for in it is not there. They pluck the apple, and it turns out to be one of those Dead Sea apples which crumble to ashes in the hand. The man is rich, but God takes away from him the power to enjoy his wealth. By his lustings and his warrings, the licentious man at last obtains the object of his cravings, and after a moment’s gratification, he loathes that which he so passionately lusted for. Thus may it be said of multitudes of the sons of men, “Ye lust, and have not.” Their poverty is set forth in a threefold manner--“Ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain”; “Ye have not, because ye ask not”; “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss.” If the lusters fail, it is not because they did not set to work to gain their ends; for, according to their nature, they used the most practical means within their reach, and used them eagerly, too. Multitudes of men are living for themselves, competing here and warring there, fighting for their own ]land with the utmost perseverance. They have little choice as to how they will do it. Conscience is not allowed to interfere in their transactions, but the old advice rings in their ears, “Get money; get money honestly if you can, but by any means get money.” No matter though body and soul be ruined, and others be deluged with misery, fight on, for there is no discharge in this war. If you are to win you must fight; and everything is fair in war. So they muster their forces, they struggle with their fellows, they make the battle of life hotter and hotter, they banish love, and brand tenderness as folly, and yet with all their schemes they obtain not the end of life in any true sense. Well saith James, “Ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war, yet ye have not.” When men who are greatly set upon their selfish purposes do not succeed, they may possibly hear that the reason of their non-success is “Because ye ask not.” Is, then, success to be achieved by asking? So the text seems to hint, and so the righteous find it. Why doth not this man of intense desires take to asking? The reason is, first, because it is unnatural to the natural man to pray; as well expect him to fly. God-reliance he does not understand; self-reliance is his word, hell is his god, and to his god he looks for success. He is so proud that he reckons himself to be his own providence; his own right hand and his active arm shall get to him the victory. Yet he obtains not. The whole history of mankind shows the failure of evil lustings to obtain their object. For a while the carnal man goes on fighting and warring; but by and by he changes his mind, for he is ill, or frightened. His purpose is the same, but if it cannot be achieved one way he will try another. If he must ask, well, he will ask; he will become religious, and do good to himself in that way. He finds that some religious people prosper in the world, and that even sincere Christians are by no means fools in business; and, therefore, he will try their plan. And now he comes under the third censure of our text. “Ye ask, and receive not.” What is the reason why the man who is the slave of his lusts obtains not his desire, even when he takes to asking? The reason is because his asking is a mere matter of form, his heart is not in his worship. This man’s prayer is asking amiss, because it is entirely for himself. He wants to prosper that he may enjoy himself; he wants to be great simply that he may be admired: his prayer begins and ends with self. Look at the indecency of such a prayer, even if it be sincere. When a man so prays he asks God to be his servant, and gratify his desires; nay, worse than that, he wants God to join him in the service of his lusts. He will gratify his lusts, and God shall come and help him to do it. Such prayer is blasphemous; but a large quantity is offered, and it must be one of the most God-provoking things that heaven ever beholds.
II. How CHRISTIAN CHURCHES MAY SUFFER SPIRITUAL POVERTY, SO that they, too, “desire to have, and cannot obtain.” Of course the Christian seeks higher things than the worldling, else were he not worthy of that name at all. At least professedly his object is to obtain the true riches, and to glorify God in spirit and in truth. Yes, but all Churches do not get what they desire. We have to complain, not here and there, but in many places, of Churches that are nearly asleep and are gradually declining. These Churches “have not,” for no truth is made prevalent through their zeal, no sin is smitten, no holiness promoted; nothing is done by which God is glorified. And what is the reason of it? First, even among professed Christians, there may be the pursuit of desirable things in a wrong method. “Ye fight and war, yet ye have not.” Have not Churches thought to prosper by competing with other Churches? Is it not the design of many to succeed by a finer building, better music, and a cleverer ministry than others? Is it not as much a matter of competition as a shop front and a dressed window are with drapers? Is this the way by which the Kingdom of God is to grow up among us? In some cases there is a measure of bitterness in the rivalry. I bring no railing accusation, and, therefore, say no more than this: God will never bless such means and such a spirit; those who give way to them will desire to have, but never obtain. Meanwhile, what is the reason why they do not have a blessing? The text says, “Because ye ask not”; I am afraid there are Churches which do not ask. Prayer in all forms is too much neglected. But some reply, “There are prayer-meetings, and we do ask for the blessing, and yet it comes not.” Is not the explanation to be found in the other part of the text, “Ye have not, because ye ask amiss”? He who prays without fervency does not pray at all. We cannot commune with God, who is a consuming fire, if there is no fire in our prayers. Many prayers fail of their errand because there is no faith in them. Prayers which are filled with doubt are requests for refusal.
III. THE WEALTH WHICH AWAITS THE USE OF THE RIGHT MEANS, namely, of asking rightly of God.
1. How very small, after all, is this demand which God makes of us. Ask! Why, it is the least thing He can possibly expect of us, and it is no more than we ordinarily require of those who need help from us. We expect a poor man to ask; and if he does not, we lay the blame of his lack upon himself. If God will give for the asking, and we remain poor, who is to blame? Surely there must be in our hearts a lurking enmity to Him; or else, instead of its being an unwelcome necessity, it would be regarded as a great delight.
2. However, whether we like it or not, remember, asking is the rule of the kingdom. “Ask, and ye shall receive.” It is a rule that never will be altered in anybody’s case. Why should it be? What reason can be pleaded why we should be exempted from prayer? What argument can there be why we should be deprived of the privilege and delivered from the necessity of supplication?
3. Moreover, it is clear to even the most shallow thinker that there are some things necessary for the Church of God which we cannot get otherwise than by prayer. You can buy all sorts of ecclesiastical furniture, you can purchase any kind of paint, brass, muslin, blue, scarlet, and fine linen, together with flutes, harps, sackbuts, psalteries, and all kinds of music--you can get these without prayer; in fact, it would be an impertinence to pray about such rubbish; but you cannot get the Holy Ghost without prayer. Neither can you get communion with God without prayer. He that will not pray cannot have communion with God. Yet more, there is no real spiritual communion of the Church with its own members when prayer is suspended. Prayer must be in action, or else those blessings which are vitally essentially to the success of the Church can never come to it. Prayer is the great door of spiritual blessing, and if you close it you shut out the favour.
4. Do you not think that this asking which God requires is a very great privilege? Suppose we were in our spiritual nature full of strong desires, and yet dumb as to the tongue of prayer, methinks it would be one of the direst afflictions that could possibly befall us; we should be terribly maimed and dismembered, and our agony would be overwhelming. Blessed be His name, the Lord ordains a way of utterance, and bids our hearts speak out to Him.
5. We must pray: it seems to me that it ought to be the first thing we ever think of doing when in need.
6. Alas! according to Scripture and observation, and, I grieve to add, according to experience, prayer is often the last thing. God is sought unto when we are driven into a corner and ready to perish. And what a mercy it is that He hears such laggard prayers, and delivers the suppliants out of their troubles.
7. Do you know what great things are to be had for the asking? Have you ever thought of it? Does it not stimulate you to pray fervently? All heaven lies before the grasp of the asking man; all the promises of God are rich and inexhaustible, and their fulfilment is to be had by prayer.
8. I will mention another proof that ought to make us pray, and that is, that if we ask, God will give to us much more than we ask. Abraham asked of God that Ishmael might live before him. He thought, “Surely, this is the promised seed: I cannot expect that Sarah will bear a child in her old age. God has promised me a seed, and surely it must be this child of Hagar. Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee!” God granted him that, but He gave him Isaac as well, and all the blessings of the covenant. There is Jacob; he kneels down to pray, and asks the Lord to give him bread to eat and raiment to put on. But what did his God give him? When tie came back to Bethel he had two bands, thousands of sheep and camels, and much wealth. God had heard him and done exceeding abundantly above what he asked. “Well,” say you, “but is that true of New Testament prayers?” Yes, it is so with the New Testament pleaders, whether saints or sinners. They brought a man to Christ sick of the palsy, and asked Him to heal him; and He said, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” He had not asked that, had he? No; but God gives greater things than we ask for. Hear that poor, dying thief’s humble prayer: “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” Jesus replies, “To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Suppose that a man takes up his pen and a piece of parchment, and writes on the top of it, “To the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty.: the humble petition of So-and-So”; but there he stops. He sits with the pen in his hand for half an hour, but does not add another word, then rises and goes his way. And he repeats this process day after day--beginning a hundred sheets of paper, but putting into them no express request; sometimes, perhaps, scratching down a few sentences which nobody can read, not even himself, but never plainly and deliberately setting down what it is that he desires. Can he wonder that his blank petition and scribbled parchments have no sensible effect on himself nor on any one besides? And has he any right to say, “I wonder what can be the matter. Other people get answers to their petitions, but I am not aware that the slightest notice has ever been taken of one of mine. I am not conscious of having got a single favour, or being a whir the better for all that I have written”? Could you expect it? When did you ever finish a petition? When did you ever despatch and forward one to the feet of Majesty? And so there are many persons who pass their days inditing blank petitions--or rather petitionless forms of prayer. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
Propriety of prayer
A gentleman of fine social qualities, always ready to make liberal provision for the gratification of his children, a man of science, and a moralist of the strictest school, was sceptical in regard to prayer, thinking it superfluous to ask God for what nature had already furnished ready to hand. His eldest son became a disciple of Christ. The father, while recognising a happy change in the spirit and deportment of the youth, still harped upon his old objection to prayer, as unphilosophical and unnecessary. “I remember,” said the son, “that I once made free use of your pictures, specimens, and instruments for the entertainment of my friends. When you came home you said to me, ‘ All that I have belongs to my children, and I have provided it on purpose for them; still, I think it would be respectful always to ask your father before taking anything.’ And so,” added the son, “although God has provided everything for me, I think it is respectful to ask Him, and to thank Him for what I use.” The sceptic was silent; but he has since admitted that he has never been able to invent an answer to this simple, personal, sensible argument for prayer.
Ye ask amiss
Requisites of prayer
Prayer is the nearest approach that, in our present state, we can make to the Deity. To neglect or shun this duty is to shun all approaches to God.
I. ATTENTION AND FERVENCY are principally requisite to render our prayers acceptable to God and beneficial to ourselves. It is not the service of the lips, it is the homage of the mind which God regards. He sees and approves even the silent devotions of the heart.
II. PERSEVERANCE is another condition upon which depends the success of our prayers.
III. HUMILITY AND SUBMISSION to the Divine will are necessary conditions of our prayers.
1. Humility, because of His infinite greatness and majesty.
2. Submission to His all-wise will, because of our own ignorance.
IV. Our prayers to God ought to be accompanied with A TRUST AND CONFIDENCE in His goodness; a confidence that composes our fears, and sets us above all despondency.
V. INTEGRITY OF HEART, without which we have reason to apprehend that God will be as regardless of our supplications as we have been of His commandments. (G. Carr.)
Conditions of prayer
I. THE PROMISE GIVEN TO PRAYER IS CONDITIONAL, AND NOT ABSOLUTE, AS TOUCHING THE THING WHICH IS PRAYED FOR; and therefore we may fail in gaining an answer to prayer in consequence of praying for that which is wrong in itself, or which would be fraught with danger to its possessor. Prayer is not a power entrusted to us, like that of free will, which we may exert for good or evil, for weal or woe; it must be used for good, either present or ultimate. What we pray for, it must be consistent with the Divine perfections to grant. To pray to a Holy God for the fulfilment of some evil desire, and to suppose that He will grant our petition, is to degrade God in a way which He Himself has denounced--“Thou thoughtest wickedly, that I am even such a one as thyself,” and to make Him “serve with” us in our “sins.” Having seen what we may not pray for, consider what are legitimate subjects for petition. The good things which are given to us by God are either spiritual or temporal; under the former are included our salvation and perfection, and all the means which directly lead to and insure those results--e.g., pardon for sin, strength against temptation, final perseverance; under the latter, “all the blessings of this life.” We will take temporal goods first, and spiritual after, reversing the order of importance. Attached to every prayer for temporal things, then, there must be understood or expressed the clause “as may be most expedient for” us, until we know the will of God concerning the thing we are asking from Him. Spiritual goods differ from the former in two great respects. They must be sought primarily, and prayers for them need not be guarded by any implied or expressed condition.
II. THAT THE STATE OF THE PERSON WHO ASKS A BENEFIT IS A MATTER OF CONSEQUENCE may be learnt by analogy from the influence which it possesses with our fellow-men when prayers are addressed to them. We are much affected by the relation of the petitioner to us in granting a favour. To be in a state of grace, to have the privilege of the adopted child, then, is a ground of acceptance with God; whilst, on the other hand, if the heart is set on sin, and has no covenanted relation with God, however right the thing asked for may be, the prayer may be of no avail. Prayer unites the soul to God, but we cannot conceive of that union, unless there is some likeness between the terms of it, “for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” St. Augustine illustrates this truth in the following manner: The fountain, he says, which ceaselessly pours forth its waters will not fill the vessel which has no mouth, or which is inverted, or which is held on one side. In the same way, God is the Fount of all goods, and desires to impart His gifts to all, but we fail to receive them, because our heart is closed against Him, or turned away from Him, or but half-converted towards Him. Whilst the heart is set on earthly possessions, or bent on sin, or has a lingering love for sinful pleasure, it is incapable of receiving and retaining the gifts of God; but to the heart that is whole with Him, He will give out of His fulness.
III. THERE ARE CERTAIN CONDITIONS WHICH OUGHT TO ACCOMPANY THE ACT OF PRAYING, IN ORDER TO ENSURE SUCCESS. Prayer is a momentous action, and must therefore be performed in a becoming manner; and a defect in this respect, though the thing prayed for be right, and the soul that prayed be in a state of grace, may hinder the accomplishment of its petitions.
1. The first of these conditions is faith. “If faith fails,” says St. Augustine, “prayer perishes.” It must be observed, that the faith which should accompany an act of prayer is of a special kind; it does not consist in the acknowledgment of the Unseen, or in the acceptance of revealed truth generally, but has direct reference to the promises of God which concern prayer. Yet it must not be supposed that, in order to pray acceptably, we must always feel quite certain of obtaining our requests; we must feel quite certain that, as far as God is concerned, He has the power to hear and answer prayer, and that He uses it as an instrument of His providence, but that in temporal things, at least, inasmuch as the bestowal of what we ask may not be expedient for us, therefore absolute certainty of gaining it may not be entertained.
2. Another disposition for praying aright, and one which touches so closely on the first as to render its separate treatment a difficulty, is to be found in the exercise of hope. We must not unduly dwell either upon the magnitude of the thing asked, or the unlikelihood of its bestowal, or our unworthiness to receive it, but rather turn to the merits of our Mediator, “in whom,” St. Paul says, “we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him”; and to the Fatherhood of God, as our Lord Himself, in the prayer which He has given us for a model, has directed--that this second disposition for praying acceptably may be elicited and sustained. But this confidence must be flanked by another virtue, to hinder it from excess.
3. Though it be true that “the prayer of the timid does not reach the heavens,” it is also to be remembered that the prayer of the presumptuous only reaches heaven to be beaten back to earth. Confidence must be held in check by lowliness.
4. There is one disposition more which is necessary, if we would secure the force of prayer--perseverance. God promises to answer prayer, but He does not bind Himself to answer it at the time we think best. There are reasons for delay, some doubtless inscrutable, but others which are in some degree within the reach of our comprehension. Delay may be occasioned by the fact that our dispositions need to be ripened before, according to the Divine Providence, an answer to prayer can be granted; or, again, another time may be better for us to receive the benefit for which we have besought God; or, again, some past sin may for a while suspend the Divine favours, or make them more difficult of attainment, as a needful discipline; or the delay may be for the purpose of heightening our sense of the benefit, when granted, and increasing our gratification in the enjoyment of it. Moreover, the struggle itself in perseveringly pressing upon God our petitions, is lucrative in several ways; it lays up store above, where patient faithfulness is not unrewarded; it has a sanctifying effect, for the inner life grows through the exercise of those virtues which prayer calls into operation. A third effect of persevering and finally successful petition is to be found in the witness it bears to the power of prayer--a witness to ourselves in the soul’s secret experience, and, if known, to others also--for, as in seeking anything from one another, it is not in that which is given at once that we find an evidence of the power of our solicitation, but in that which has been again and again refused, and at last is, as it were, almost extorted froth another; so when God grants our requests, after He has long refused to do so, we seem to conquer Him by our entreaties, and thereby the potency of prayer is conspicuously manifested. The conditions of prayer may be summed up in few words--if we turn from sin and seek God, if we turn from earth and seek heaven, if in prayer we exert all our spiritual energies, we shall be heard; and we shall be able from our own experience to bear witness to the power of prayer. (W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)
How prayer may be rendered unavailing
1. By grieving the Spirit through not feeling our need of His assistance.
2. By lack of reverence.
3. By praying with a fretful and complaining spirit.
4. By thinking more of self them of God.
5. By a want of definiteness.
6. By the absence of earnest desire.
7. By impenitence.
8. By unwillingness to have our prayer answered. We pray for the generous loving Spirit of Christ; then we remember a rival in business, or an enemy who has wronged us--and the spirit of prayer is gone.
9. By being in too great a hurry when we pray. “Fall on your knees, and grow there,” says one who has tested the worth of prayer.
10. By neglecting to maintain a state of prayer. The spirit of prayer, like a silvery stream, must run all through our daily life.
11. Through want of co-operation with God in bringing the answer to our own prayer. You pray for the conversion of sinners. Are you living before them in a way that they may have occasion to glorify God? What have you given for the conversion of the heathen? I once endeavoured to secure five hundred dollars from a man in Boston for the work among the heathen. He told me he would make it a subject of prayer. A few days afterwards I saw him, and he gave me one hundred dollars. Theft same man, a little later, built a residence for seventy-five thousand dollars, and furnished it for one-third as much more. You pray for your city’s welfare. How did you vote? (J. A. M. Chapman, D. D.)
1. We pray amiss when our ends and aims are not right in prayer. The end is a main circumstance in every action, the purest offspring of the soul.
2. Our ends and aims are wrong in prayer when we ask blessings for the use and encouragement of our lusts. Men sin with reference to the aim of prayer several ways.
(1) When the end is grossly carnal and sinful. Some seek God for their sins, and would engage the Divine blessing upon a revengeful and carnal enterprise; as the thief kindleth his torch that he might steal by at the lamps of the altar.
(2) When men privily seek to gratify their lusts, men look upon God as some great power that must serve their carnal turns; as he came to Christ, “Master, speak to my brother to divide the inheritance” (Luke 12:13). We would have somewhat from God to give to lust; health and long life, that we may live pleasantly; wealth, that we may “fare deliciously every day”; estates, that we raise up our name and family; victory and success, to excuse ourselves from glorifying God by suffering, or to wreak our malice upon the enemies; Church deliverances, out of a spirit of wrath and revenge.
(3) When we pray for blessings with a selfish aim, and not with serious and actual designs of God’s glory, as when a man prayeth for spiritual blessings with a mere respect to his own ease and comfort, as for pardon, heaven, grace, faith, repentance, only that he may escape wrath. This is but a carnal respect to our own good and welfare. God would have us mind our own comfort, but not only. God’s glory is the pure spiritual aim.
3. Prayers framed out of a carnal intention are usually successless. God never undertook to satisfy fleshly desires. He will own no other voice in prayer but that of His own Spirit (Romans 8:27). (T. Manton.)
The missing prayer
1. Because they are too selfish.
(1) We set a high value on ourselves, and no dependence upon
(2) Self seeking is the chief prompting principle.
(3) We lack regard for God’s glory and our own good.
(4) We feel not our own need.
2. Because they are too fretful and complaining. Not a grain of praise or thanksgiving.
3. Because they are too indefinite, vague, doubtful, and calculative.
4. Because they are too insincere, too much in a hurry, and irreverent.
5. Because they are too heartless.
(1) The source from which they rise is bad--the heart.
(2) The desire (the very soul of prayer) is worldly. No continuous thought of God.
(3) Soul earnestness is absent. All is cold, lifeless. (J. Harries.)
Most Christians are alive to the duty of prayer, and believe most firmly in its power. Yet, in the experience of all, prayer is not prevalent, as it ought. Few but have reason sadly to confess: “We have asked but we have received not.” Where, then, lies the fault? Is it with God? No; God’s ear is never heavy that it cannot hear. His arm is never shortened that it cannot save. The fault lies with ourselves. It is because we have not asked aright that we have asked in vain.
I. THERE MAY BE SOMETHING “AMISS” IN THE SOURCE FROM WHENCE OUR PRAYERS COME. All true prayer must come from the heart. Its own emptiness and want must prompt the cry, else it will not “enter into the ear of the Lord of Sabaoth.” Perhaps our hearts are toll, and there is no room for the blessing, which we profess to seek, to enter. Full of worldly desires, delights, and passions. In such a case, vain must our asking be--insulting to the God whom we address.
II. THERE MAY BE SOMETHING “AMISS” IN THE OBJECTS WHICH OUR PRAYERS SEEK. Perhaps we have no definite object in view whatever. We have not inquired as to our wants ere engaging in the exercise. Utter in God’s presence no “vague generalities,” which have been well termed “the death of prayer,” but plead before Him felt, individual want. But granting that we have a definite object in view, that object may be altogether of a selfish nature. It is something pleasing to ourselves we wish--self-honour, self-pleasure, self-gratification. So intently is our mind fixed upon some object on which our heart is set--so entirely are we wrapt up in the attainment of it--that we forget to ask ourselves whether the gratification of our desire may be conducive to our highest well-being, may be in accordance with the will of God.
III. THERE MAY BE SOMETHING “AMISS” IN THE SPIRIT BY WHICH OUR PRAYERS ARE PERVADED, What was said concerning the Israelites with reference to Cannaan may be said of our prayers with reference to the audience chamber of God: “They could not enter in because of unbelief.” In this--the absence of faith--we have the secret of the non-success of the greater number of our petitions. And our faith must be such as to bring us to the mercy-seat pleading again and yet again the self-same request. Our faith must not fail, if at first asking no answer comes, for we “ask amiss” if we ask not perseveringly. (W. R. Inglis.)
The causes of unsuccessful prayer
1. We ask amiss, and consequently without success, when we fail to feel the parental love of God. Your approaches to the mercy-seat have been visits of ceremony, rather than affection; your prayers have been elaborations of language, rather than bursts of strong desire. Cold reserve has taken the place of openhearted confidence; and you have often said only what you thought you ought to feel, instead of saying what you really felt, and asking for what you really wanted. You have treated God as a stranger. You have not confided to Him your secrets. You have not even told Him so much as you have told your father or mother. You have not trusted His mighty love.
2. We ask amiss if, in our prayers, we fail to realise the mediation of Christ. Though children, we are rebels; and there is no rebel so sinful as a rebel-child. We have forfeited the original rights of children, and can approach God no more directly, but only mediately. You close your prayers with the formula, “We ask all these things for Christ’s sake”; but in religion meaning is everything, and what do you mean? Do you truly renounce dependence on yourself, and rely alone on the worthiness of Jesus? Do you make His name your grand argument, and only hope? Does the fact of His mediation have to you the force of a reality? Do you put all your prayers into His censer, that they may be offered as His own?
3. We ask amiss when we ask for wrong things. The heart will ever give a bias to the judgment. What we know depends upon what we are. In our case the heart is wrong; the judgment, therefore, is likely to be wrong; and as a further consequence, we are likely to ask for wrong things. In us there is at once the inexperience of childhood, and the darkness of a perverted nature; and, naturally, the things we wish for are not always the things a loving Father could bestow. In this world of illusions, and from this heart of darkness, we often ask for a temptation, or for a sorrow, or for a curse, when, deceived by its wrong name or fascinating aspect, we think it would be a glorious boon. Where and what should we now have been if all our prayers had been answered? There can be no mistake in the judgment of the “only wise”; no unkindness in “love”; no unfaithfulness in Him whose name is “faithful and true.” What if your prayers had been heard? Agrippina implored the gods that she might live to see her infant Nero an emperor. Emperor he became, and from his imperial throne plotted that mother’s death.
4. We ask amiss, when our prayers are wanting in intensity. “A thing may be good in itself,” remarks a Puritan father, “yet not well done. A man may sin in doing a good thing, but not in doing well. When Cicero was asked which oration of Demosthenes he thought best, he said, ‘the longest.’ But if the question should be, which of prayers are the best, the answer then must be ‘the strongest.’ Therefore, let all young converts who are apt to think more than is meet of their own enlargements, endeavour to turn their length into strength, and remember the wide difference between the gift and the grace of prayer.”
5. We “ask amiss” if we are satisfied with devoting hurried and infrequent periods of time to the exercise of prayer. True, prayer consists not in telling off a long rosary of solemn words; and that length which is simply the result of formal routine, or verbal fluency, is to be condemned without reserve; but this does not render it the less important that we should have seasons, long and frequent as circumstances will allow, which shall be regarded as sacred to prayer; stated seasons, when, like the prophet in his cave, or the priest in the holiest place, the soul is to be alone with God, to speak and to be spoken to, to rise above the life of the senses, and thus to cultivate a sacred intimacy with Him who is invisible. Many a man, if he dared to give his thoughts expression, would say, “I have so much to do that I really have no time for prayer.” Luther thought differently when he said, “I have so much to do that I find I cannot get on without three hours a day of praying.” No time for prayer! But the scholar must have time to read his books, and the sailor to consult his compass. Every man must have time for his own vocation; and your vocation is prayer. As a man lives by his labour, a Christian lives by his faith, and prayer is but the act by which faith draws the spirit’s supplies of life from God, the Source.
6. You should also be reminded that the dominion of some particular sin may often rob your prayers of their efficacy.
7. “We ask amiss” when we ask for a blessing on some sinful deed, or on something which we do for a sinful end. A. Roman robber is said thus to have prayed to the goddess Laverna: “Fair Laverna, give me a prosperous robbery, a rich prey, and a secret escape. Let me become rich by fraud, and still be accounted religious” (Horace, Eph. I., Lib. 1:16, 60). The Pharisees, those Brahmins of ancient Israel, “devoured widows’ houses,” and yet, “for a pretence, made long prayers,” no doubt trying to believe that prayer sanctified their fraud, and had a virtue to secure its prosperity. Many a man, who wears a worthier name than they, will pray, when, if he had but courage to analyse his prayer, he would find that he is virtually asking God’s blessing on some sin. He will pray when he sets out on some enterprise which must prove a temptation to himself, or which tends to the injury of others; he will pray as he begins some act of strife or litigation; he will pray when he is about to engage in some commercial dishonesties, made “respectable” by custom, or disguised by some gentle name; and, while he cannot afford, or will not dare to consider the question of their Christian lawfulness, he prays that God may bless him in his deed; and the desire of his heart is that he may still be” counted religious.” But even though the thing we seek be intrinsically good, if our motive in seeking it be doubtful, our prayers will be unavailing. Not only must we know what we ask, but why we ask it. You may do right to ask for health; to ask for the powers of industrial efficiency; to ask for social influence; to ask God to “speed the plough” of worldly toil; for there is no evil inherent in the nature of these things; but if you ask simply with a view to purposes of pride or pleasure, God will be silent. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
Hindrances to the efficacy of social prayer
1. The comparatively small numbers who sustain it may help to account for the comparatively slight and partial results of social prayer. As every power must be stronger in its collective than in its separate existence, in its aggregate than in its individuality--and will have augmented force in the degree of its increasing accumulation--efficacious as is solitary prayer, social prayer has a heightened efficacy; and if “the prayer of one righteous man avail much,” the prayers of many avail more. When, therefore, we “forsake the assembling of ourselves together”--when we leave them to be sustained by a limited and variable attendance--what wonder is it if we find that in proportion as they lose in social force, they die in spiritual effect? There is yet another affecting consideration. When all the inhabitants of a certain district are summoned for the purpose of sending a petition to the legislature, but only a few respond; the inference is, that, whatever may be the feeling of a few individuals, the community itself is indifferent to that petition, and it is, therefore, set aside as a thing of utter insignificance. On the same principle, when a Church is summoned by its executive ministry to weekly meetings for prayer, and only a few members attend, is it not a fair inference that the Church itself is indifferent to those prayers? They may, indeed, be earnestly presented by individuals, but the whole society is not identified with their presentation; and if God dealt with us, as man deals with man, we could not feel surprised if such prayers of the Church were rather regarded as an assertion of its indifference, than an expression of its strong desire.
2. Want of agreement in spirit, on the part of those who meet to pray, may sometimes hinder the success of social prayer. If, while one prays aloud, the rest are prayerless; if, instead of pouring their desires along the channel of his language, they are the listless victims of unsettled and dispersive thought, before God there is no prayer meeting, but only one solitary prayer. Let every man, if possible, sign every petition--sign it with his individual mind--and make it his own, or else let all the non-consenting multitude separate, each man to “mourn apart,” and to offer his sacrifice in solitude.
3. Much of what frequently enters into the exercise of social prayer, is no prayer at all, and is therefore followed by no definite results. Shall the Church only be in earnest when in sorrow, and do we require persecution to teach us how to pray?
4. Another cause of ineffectiveness may be the frequent want of suitable gifts on the part of those who lead the devotion. When alone with God, the language of silence, or of confused, broken, almost silent speech, tell all that need to he told; but it is different in social prayer; there, the “gift of utterance” is required, and the prayer utterer, like the preacher, must; find fit words, and seek the gift no less than the grace of prayer. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
“Ye ask, and receive not”
The words are obviously written as in answer to an implied objection: “Not ask,” a man might say; “Come and listen to our prayers; no one can accuse us of neglecting our devotions.” Incredible as it might seem that men plundering and murdering, as the previous verses represent them, should have held such language, or been in any sense men who prayed, the history of Christendom presents but too many instances of like anomalies. Cornish wreckers going from church to their accursed work, Italian brigands propitiating their patron saint before attacking a company of travellers, slave-traders, such as John Newton once was, recording piously God’s blessing on their traffic of the year; these may serve to show how soon conscience may be seared, and its warning voice come to give but an uncertain sound. (Dean Plumptre.)
The Dead-prayer Office
What becomes of all the unanswered letters? Many of them find their way to the Deadletter Office. Some never reach the person for whom they are intended because the postage is not paid; some fail because they are directed to the wrong office; some cannot be sent because the address is illegible; and some because the matter enclosed is not such as may be sent by post. All these are examined at different offices, and finally they fall into the Dead-letter Office. Some of the reasons assigned why letters go to the Dead-letter Office will hold good of unanswered prayers. But no really valuable prayer with a heart’s me-sage in it ever fails of its destination or goes unanswered.
Sometimes we ask for things which would be very hurtful to others, though they might be gain to us. A poor boy needed a sovereign to enter a mechanical institute, where he would have great advantages. He only heard of it a short while before the opening of the term, and he did not see how he could get the money in time. His father could not afford give it to him; he tried in vain to raise it. He was too proud to ask a friend for it; so he prayed God that he might somewhere find the sovereign he needed. He did not find it. Now, was there anything wrong in the prayer? At first sight it looks simple and harmless enough, doesn’t it? But think for a moment. Would not some one have to lose the sovereign before the lad could find it? That puts the matter in a very different light. This poor lad was asking God to take the money out of some one’s pocket and put it into his. But it surely is not fair to ask God to help us at the expense of other people. (J. Themore)
We may be asking of God, and yet, at the same time, clinging to some one sin--perhaps some very small thing in itself, as we call it, but enough to interrupt the current between us and God. It does not take such a very large thing to interrupt the electric current. A whole train was stopped not long ago because some small insect had got where it ought not to have been. It stopped the electric current that turned a certain disc to show the engineer whether or not he was to go on. That little insect stopped the current and the whole thing went wrong; the engineer stopped the train, which was not necessary at all. So it does not take a very obviously visible sin to break the communication between God and us. (Theodore Monod.)
The father of Sir Philip Sidney enjoined upon his son, when he went to school, never to neglect “thoughtful prayer.” It was golden advice, and doubtless his faithful obedience to the precept helped to make Philip Sidney the peerless flower of knighthood and the stainless man that he was--a man for whom, for months after his death, every gentleman in England wore mourning. (Baxendale’s Anecdotes.)
I think that most men, when they pray, are like an archer who shoots in the dark. Some one tells him that if he will strike the target placed in a certain hole, he shall have such a reward; and he lets fly his arrow into the hole, without being able to see the object which he wishes to hit, hoping that he may hit it and that the reward will be forthcoming. And we take our desires as arrows, and, without seeing any target, fire, and fire, and fire, till our quiver is empty, hoping that we may hit something, and that some benefit may revert to us many men pray, and pray, and pray, till they are tired of praying, without any perceptible result, and then say, “It is of no use; it is fantasy and folly.” Some men pray, not because they think they will hit anything, but because it makes them feel better. Very few men pray intelligently. (H. W. Beecher.)
Foolish prayers unanswered
One of AEsop’s fables tells how a herdsman who had lost a calf out of his grounds sent to seek it everywhere, but net finding it betook himself to prayer. “Great Jupiter,” said he, “if thou wilt show me the thief that has stolen my calf I will sacrifice a kid to thee.” The prayer was scarcely uttered when the thief stood before him--it was a lion. The poor herdsman was terrified, and his discovery drove him again to prayer. “I have not forgotten my vow, O Jupiter,” he said, “but now that thou hast shown me the thief, I will make the kid a bull if thou wilt take him away again.” The moral of the fable is that the fulfilment of our wishes might often prove our ruin. Our ignorance often betrays us into errors which would be fatal if our prayers were granted. It is in kindness to us that they are refused.
The friendship of the world is enmity with God
The friendship of the world enmity with God
WHAT WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND BY THE FRIENDSHIP OF THE WORLD.
1. In what sense the word “world” is to be taken
(1) “The world” is often put to signify the wicked men of the world, whether unbelievers or believers, of evil and profligate lives (1 Corinthians 11:32).
(2) It is sometimes put to signify the vicious actions and customs of the Romans 12:2; James 1:27; Titus 2:12; 2 Peter 2:20).
(3) It is likewise used to signify the things of the world and the enjoyment of them, viz., the riches, honours, and pleasures of it, and, in one word, ever)thing belonging to it which men are apt to be pleased with Matthew 16:26; Galatians 6:14). It is this that is chiefly intended here.
2. What degree of friendship with the things of the world is here condemned.
(1) When we love them more than we do God, our Saviour, religion, and our souls, or indeed with any degree of nearness or equality to them.
(2) When we love them more (though vastly short of God, our Saviour, our souls, our religion, and the spiritual rewards of it, if such a thing could possibly be supposed) than they in themselves really deserve to be beloved, and for other ends and purposes than God has designed them for; when we love them as our own, as bringing mighty delights with them, as being certain, permanent, durable goods.
II. SOME MARKS OR SIGNS BY WHICH WE MAY CERTAINLY KNOW’ WHETHER WE ARE SUCH FRIENDS OF THE WORLD AS ST. JAMES CONDEMNS.
If, therefore, we find our thoughts and affections chiefly taken up with the things of this world; if the main bent of all our studies and endeavours tends this way; if for the sake of these things we attempt such difficulties, run such hazards, as we would not for the sake of anything else whatsoever, not even for God’s and our own soul’s sake, venture upon; if our hearts are rather set upon making ourselves or our children rich and great than wise and good; if we suffer ourselves to give way in the cause of God and religion, and let this man’s greatness and the other man’s wealth, this secular inconvenience and that consideration of worldly gain, keep us from doing our duty or frighten us from opposing wickedness--if this, or anything like this, be our case, there is no room left to dispute what principle we are governed by, but the world, which so plainly shows its authority over us, must have us.
III. FOR WHAT REASONS SUCH A FRIENDSHIP OF THE WORLD MUST NEEDS BE ENMITY WITH GOD.
1. You cannot but see how unreasonable, ill-proportioned, and unjust a love this is. It robs God; prefers the creature to the Creator, shadows to substances, &c. It reflects upon God’s honour and disparages His wisdom by perverting the designs of it.
2. You cannot but see how vastly it is below the nature and dignity of man, who was made and is fitted for much nobler enjoyments.
3. You cannot but see how directly contrary and repugnant this is to the very nature and design of the Christian religion; to the example of our blessed Saviour, who declared both in word and deed that He was not of the world; to our own constant professions of being subjects of a kingdom that is not of this world; to the great end of our Lord’s coming, which was to save us from this evil world, to chase us out of it, and to make us a peculiar people to Himself, that should not mind earthly things; to His most plain and frequent commands, &c.
4. You cannot but see how plainly this tends to wear away and utterly extirpate all sense and regard of God and religion out of our minds. (Wm. Dawes, D. D.)
1. Worldliness in Christians is spiritual adultery. It dissolves the spiritual marriage between God and the soul. To let the world share with God is an evil, but to prefer the world before God is an impiety.
2. Women have special need to take heed of worldly pleasures and lusts: “You adulterers and adulteresses.”
3. To seek the friendship of the world is the ready way to be God’s enemy. God and the world are contrary -” tie is all good, and the world lieth in wickedness; and they command contrary things. The world saith, “Slack no opportunity of gain and pleasure; if you will be so peevish as to stand nicely upon conscience, you will do nothing but draw trouble upon yourselves.” Now, God saith, “Deny yourself; take up your cross; renounce the world.” Well, now, you see the enmity between God and the world.
(1) Think of it seriously when you are about to mingle with earthly comforts and delights, and can neglect God for a little carnal conveniency and satisfaction; this is to be an enemy to God, and can I make good my part against Him? He is almighty, and can crush you (Ezekiel 22:14). And He is a terrible enemy “when He whetteth His glittering sword” Deuteronomy 32:41). Nay, if none of all this were to be feared, the very estrangement from God is punishment enough to itself.
(2) Learn how odious worldliness is; it is direct enmity to God, because it is carried on under sly pretences. Of all sins this seemeth most plausible. (T. Manton.)
The world or God
Man is a creature perpetually balancing himself between the impulses of hate and love. In the affections of the soul no man liveth to himself. We must go beyond ourselves for information, for inspiration, for enjoyment. Likes occasion dislikes, and between these two poles all mankind dwell. When desire is normal it centres in God, and the soul comes into harmony with the universe,. When we love the Creator supremely, we must receive delight from every part of the creation in the degree its Lord designed. The love of God is inclusive of the love of all that is good. Instead of narrowing, it expands infinitely our capacity of happiness. It awakens the dullest soul to a consciousness of the beautiful and the sublime in nature. It sanctions with the loftiest motives the pursuit of knowledge, it pronounces a blessing even on those lesser gifts which minister to the gratification of bodily appetite. All these contribute to his pleasure whose chief delight is in the Maker of all. Godliness has not only the promise of the world that now is, it has whatever is excellent in that world. Lovely as this earth may appear to the believer, his controlling impulse is not love of the world, but love of God. If, on the other hand, our desires turn away from the great Father, they must rest on something He has made. It may be a person, it may be wealth, art, pleasure, fame; in any case the result is the same. We have wrecked the universal order; we have assailed the symmetry and splendour of the cosmos. We have turned things upside down. We have put the less in the place of the greater. We have deified the material and dethroned the eternal. Such an affection is in its essence exclusive and intolerant. We may love God and enjoy all else, but the converse of the proposition is never true; the friendship of the world is enmity with God. We all must love; the only question is, Shall our affections ennoble, bless, glorify the soul? or shall they isolate, degrade, blast it for ever? Shall this world or shall the Almighty demand our highest regard? In our senses we can make but one response. Our real difficulty is with the perilous fascination that is an attribute of carnality. He who sets his heart on things temporal, who rests his chief happiness here, who feels he would give up everything rather than the pleasures of sense, loves the world and hates God. In particular, we ought not to put an extravagant estimate on things of the earth. The chief danger of living to a moral intelligence lies in unconsciously magnifying the importance of temporalities. We cannot see how we can get along without these imposing advantages. Health lies piled up around us. Success flits like a vision ahead. We easily come to believe that life devoid of these is not worth the living. It is always natural to exaggerate the worth of agencies that we have found efficient. It is too often taken for granted that with each stroke of fortune there is an increase of happiness, with each promotion in office an increment of comfort, with each addition to the income a further escape from care. There are millions who believe in all sincerity that if they can only get along in the world pleasure is assured, reputation will come as a matter of course, popularity will drop like ripe fruit, honour rise like a growing plant; even the service of God will be rendered easier and more effective. Whether such attain their purposes or not, their desires have overflowed the banks and threaten destruction. The world is toned out of all reason and justice. God is forgotten, even despised, in the comparison. We must guard against immoderate exertion to obtain worldly good. It is folly for one to shatter health to gather gold. It is miserable infatuation for one to destroy his mind to retain a place of endless perplexities. Above all, it is appalling unwisdom for one to fill his soul with remorse that he may cram his safe with securities. Whoever takes or would take success on such terms is as one giving dollars in exchange for pennies, as one trading off white, flashing, flawless diamonds for pebbles by the roadside. To what shall we compare his foolishness? Like the toys that amuse children for an hour and are then flung aside spoiled, broken, insipid, joyless, such are most of the ambitions of men. Too often we resemble those who should erect conservatories to raise one flower, or support great stables to speed a horse for a few seconds, or exhibit a prodigal hospitality to secure a single influential friend, or collect costly pictures to afford entertainment for an hour, or circumnavigate the earth to supply matter for a few conversations, or run for Congress to be noticed in the papers, or import extravagant dresses for a three-line description in a fashion journal. In the name of all that is rational, why this mighty labour for so mean a prize? Why this incessant, immense, incredible work that is done under the sun, which, though a man may labour to seek it out, he shall not be able? Beware of overrating the value of temporal good. There are some things money cannot buy. In all the shops of earth you will find no counter over which money may be exchanged for bodily health, or mental capacity, or peace of soul, or lost time, or neglected opportunities. After all the praise of all the ages, what can this dearly-prized gold buy but a bed to sleep in, a suit to wear, a plateful to eat? We are not to deplore unreasonably its loss. The world is rapidly slipping from us, or we are steadily, swiftly fading from it. No matter how much we have here, we cannot retain it long. Think of yourself, shorn of wealth, deprived of friends, failing in health, what would you have left? If we do not stand ever ready to sacrifice money for the relief of suffering, for the purposes of benevolence, we love it more than God. If, when bankruptcy comes, life sinks into sullenness, envy, bitterness, we loved luxury more than the Lord of all. If death alarms, if the only consolation is the throwing back a lingering, despairing look on pleasures for ever past; if the principal torment is the anticipation of a mysterious future, then, too, the friendship of the world has wrought the enmity of God. Never was friendship more injudicious, never was hostility more unjust. No man can exhibit greater folly than he who, to please and enjoy this fading earth, forgets, affronts, defies the Lord of heaven. The world is insufficient, unsubstantial, deceptive, evanescent. God is infinite, omnipotent, eternal, able to bestow on man fulness of knowledge and perfection of happiness, granting us in His light to see light, and bidding us draw with joy out of the wells of salvation. “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Every voice in the universe calls upon us to direct love aright. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and all the world we should have will be added. Make the contrary choice, and the only issue can be disaster, defeat, and the horror of a great darkness. Who will die for ever for the friendship of this poor world? (S. S. Roche.)
Worldly friendship enmity to God
I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN BEING A FRIEND OF THE WORLD. To be a friend of the world, we should be inclined to think, at first view, would be rather estimable than otherwise. Ought not every Christian to be a friend to his fellow-man? Should we not cultivate dispositions of love, benevolence, and kindness towards all? Yes. But to be a friend of the world, in the sense of the text, is totally different from this. It implies--
1. Love. If you love the world, you are, in the sight of God, the friends of the world. Sinners love those who, like themselves, are destitute of the grace of God in the heart.
2. Association. Friends consort together; they are frequently found in each other’s company; not merely because duty leads them these, or business calls them, but because inclination draws them towards one another.
3. Conformity. Friends conform to each other. There is a mutual forbearance with each other’s inclinations, rules, and customs.
4. Assimilation. Friends resemble each other in the selection of those things most likely to contribute to their comfort and happiness.
II. CONFIRM THE STATEMENT MADE IN THE TEXT: he is the enemy of God.
1. This is an awful fact; and in illustration of it, we remark, that such a man is--
(1) An enemy to the law of God. Nothing can more fully prove an individual to be an enemy, than his systematic attempts to set at nought those precepts and injunctions which he is aware that it is his duty as well as his privilege to obey (Rom 12:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:22; Exodus 23:2).
(2) An enemy to the grace of God. He refuses to yield to the striving of the Holy Spirit, and strengthens the principles of depravity in his nature, and plunges still deeper into the abyss of sin and guilt.
(3) An enemy to the will of God. He is continually endeavouring to accomplish his own gratification in those things which the Judge of all the earth has prohibited.
(4) An enemy to the cause of God. By this is meant the work which Jehovah is carrying on throughout the world for the salvation of all mankind; the means which He has adopted, and the plans which He has set forth, for the rescue of immortal souls; thus bringing them from the galling yoke of Satan into the liberty and privileges of the gospel.
(5) An enemy to the people of God. It is gratifying to the wicked to throw obstacles in their path to the kingdom of heaven; and, if possible, to turn them altogether out of the way of salvation.
2. What is implied in being an enemy of God.
(1) The character is at once dishonourable and disgraceful. Such a person is at variance with all goodness, excellence, and truth; all that angels admire, extol, and love; all that excites joy, triumph, and endless gratitude in the breast of redeemed spirits, who “circle His throne rejoicing.”
(2) The enemy of God is guilty of the foulest ingratitude. Is not the Lord Jehovah our best friend, constantly loading us with benefits?
(3) The enemy of God is miserable. The deepest despair of the lost soul arises from being for ever excluded from God; and though the wicked experience not the anguish of the damned, it is because their probationary state is not yet terminated, and they are still in a world where mercy triumphs, and where vengeance is not speedily executed. (R. Treffry.)
The world’s friends, and the friends of God
The question sounds harsh on the ears, and wounds the feelings of many who hear it. And yet it comes from that same blessed One who tells us, “God so loved the world,” &c. It must be love, the perfect love in its free outflowing, the love which seeks and works out the whole good of its objects, Divine love itself, which appeals to our own conscience: “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?” A question of this form must require an affirmative reply; and the next words supply it. But do our heart and conscience give that expected answer? First, what is this “world,” which a friend of God may not love? We are sure it cannot be simply the fair creation which Himself pronounced to be very good. And we are equally sure it cannot be simply the social relationships in which we stand. The bonds of family life, the ties of friendship, the claims of human society, springing from His fatherly love, are redeemed in Jesus Christ, are sanctified by His Spirit, and are constantly upheld by His Word and providence. If in any sense these human relationships come under the language of the text, it must be in some faulty and perverse reference in which we have learned to regard them. Now, this false view of things about us is noticed in the expressions used in this chapter. “The lusts that war in your members” “Ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” And the strong, and, as we should say, the opprobious name used in this text, points to the same false view and false use of the objects and relationships by which we are surrounded. St. John, in his first Epistle, speaks in very similar language (1 John 2:15-16).
1. “The lust of the flesh”; when our ruling motive in the use of these things is to gratify the appetites and passions of the body, not to supply its necessities, not to keep it in health, and to fit it for its proper work. And not only bodily passions or desires. When we remember how the flesh is opposed to the spirit in the New Testament, we see that the word includes in it very much at least of the evil which St. Paul ascribes to the soul--the strong active desires of our nature so far as they are corrupt.
2. Again; the world in us is partly “the lust of the eye.” It may be asked why this one of the bodily senses is singled out for separate mention. And, if the answer is sought in our own self-questionings, the question is wisely asked, and will find its answer more and more constantly. For who can estimate the power of the eye to receive pure and healthy impressions of truth and love, of gentleness and meekness, of self-denying simplicity, and of heaven-born purity?
3. Once more; the world in us is partly “the pride of life”--the pride of this world’s existence, as the heart fastens upon outward show of visible and tangible objects, wealth, respect and homage from without, reputation, or whatever else it may be, as far as these exalt oneself above another, and consequently in some sense distinguish and separate men by these outward distinctions. This world-worship may assume an unselfish character. The process may be pushed forward for others, not for ourselves. But still it is a world which no friend of God may love, whether in himself or in another. So St. John’s description is realised not only within us, but without us, in the outward world itself. Are there not many objects around us, and many arrangements of things whose very purpose and almost only effect is to foster those sinful propensities; schemes carefully devised for this very end; some in a more refined manner; some more coarsely; the former only the falser for their apparent refinement; the latter repulsive at first sight or embrace, gradually habituating the body and the soul to the very coarseness of their vice? But view these arrangements and fashions of things in their most refined outward form; shed over them the lustre which the most refined art can supply; give them the outline of beauty, the harmony of colour and of sound, sweetness of melody, gracefulness and life of graceful movement, the charm of sympathy in pleasure, and the responsive enjoyment of friendship or of love. And is it to feed any one of these three, the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, and the pride of life? Or, in St. James’s words, do you ask for them that you may consume them on your own desires? Then what have you done? You have taken fragments of God’s beautiful world, elements of His beautiful order; you have misshaped and miscombined them, though in forms beautifully false; you have expelled Him from the work of your own skill and taste; and you have made a world, the friendship of which is ruin to yourself and enmity with Him. But we must go a step further in testing the true and the forbidden use of human art. Let us take the case where the purpose is an intellectual gratification. When form and colour and sound are results of pure and simple intellectual taste, and occasions of pure and simple intellectual enjoyment, is this a world of which we may be friends? The question almost answers itself! If we make a world of art for ourselves, or a world of intelligent thought and speculation, or accept the creation of some other more accomplished than ourselves, is it really a new world? or is it truly and honestly a part of God’s world or God’s order? Where is His place in it? Is He acknowledged or expelled? Nay, is He, after all, the centre and life of that world? Do all its parts and all its subordinate order point directly and tend to Him? I do not ask if we are at every moment consciously realising His presence in it. But does it tend to bring us to Him, and to reveal Him to us? This right tendency may be more or less direct or indirect. But it must exist, it must be an essential element, in true intellectual exercise. But what of the more common enjoyment of natural beauty, enjoyment which is open even to uninstructed and uncultivated minds? Here, too, is the same distinction. Men speak of looking up from nature to nature’s God. It may be a true expression: it may be only a mask. The passive enjoyment of natural beauty is not looking up to God at all: it is personal gratification, perhaps of the body, perhaps of the soul. This passive enjoyment, when rightly used and controlled and directed, may be the first step of a real ascent from nature to nature’s God. But who and what is the God to whom we thus ascend? Is He infinite greatness, and skill immeasurable by us, acting in ways so various and so beautiful that we are lost in the contemplation? Is He untold goodness whose love to His creatures shine through every one of the natural beauties which we admire and love? And is this all? I fear our friendship of this world is enmity with God. The blind sense of immeasurable greatness leads only to idolatry, to worship of visible or invisible creatures, or of the thoughts of our own hearts. The blind sense of untold goodness takes away the thought of sin, the consciousness of warfare against God, and wraps us up in weak and godless sentiment. Our God in such case is at the very best some ancient Father of gods and men, or some Hindoo abstraction of the Supreme; or even, perhaps, the deification of some form of natural beauty, or some image of our own hearts. It may seem that we have dwelt too much on the negative side of this great Christian principle. But, surely, the direct positive principle has not been wanting. Our safety is this. “The Word of God abideth in us.” That Word of God is Jesus Christ Himself; Jesus Christ revealing Himself, revealing the Father, working by His Spirit. Enthrone Him in your heart. Present yourself to Him a Jiving sacrifice, body, soul, and spirit, and you are safe. For you will find Him everywhere, in the world without, in the world within. Friendship and love, art and science and nature, all will discover Him when once you have found Him in yourself, and will bind you to Him more and more closely. And He will shed upon them the pure and gentle light of His own love, which will save you from the false friendship of the world, will cheer you under all its disappointments and deceits, and lead you through this world to another world, where all objects of Jove and friendship are pure as tie is pure, and Himself is visibly enthroned above them all. (J. F. Fenn, M. A.)
Friendship with the world
I. THE WORLD, THE FRIENDSHIP OF WHICH IS COURTED BY TREACHEROUS AND LUKEWARM CHRISTIANS.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH THAT UNSANCTIFIED FRIENDSHIP WITH THE WORLD WHICH IS CONDEMNED IN THE TEXT MANIFESTS ITSELF. And here we must guard, both on the right hand and on the left. To keep ourselves “unspotted from the world” we are not to go out of the world. Let it be also understood that this friendship with the world is not to be avoided by surliness of manners; not by indifference to the good opinion of the world itself. We are to “please all men”; only we are to remember to do it “for their good to edification.” The culpable courting of the world’s friendship here condemned manifests itself--
1. In being unwilling to encounter reproach and difficulty for Christ’s sake.
2. In hiding our opinions, and suffering men to go on in error and spiritual danger, that we may keep up their society.
3. In preferring some interest, some honour, to adherence to conscience.
4. In such obsequiousness to the world’s maxims and principles as to lead to at least doubtful compliances,
III. THE AGGRAVATION OF THE CRIME CHARGED. Here these friendships with the world which betray Christ are marked by two opprobrious characters.
1. Spiritual adultery. This implies abnegation of God.
2. Enmity to God. The Bible becomes dull; prayer becomes irksome; and final apostasy is often the sad consequence of worldly compliances.
IV. THAT MOST EXCELLENT WAY WHICH THE APOSTLE’S DENUNCIATION SUGGESTS. He would have us decide. The benefits of decision are numerous and great.
1. It is ordinarily attended with less difficulty than a vacillating and hesitating habit.
2. It is a noble object to aspire to fidelity to God.
3. There is an interesting reciprocation. If we are God’s people, He is our God; and we have everything to expect from Him.
4. The real pleasure which decision opens are many and great. The conscience is at rest; we have unbounded confidence towards God; and the unclouded prospect of heaven is opened before us.
5. The comforting sense of acting according to our real circumstances as responsible dying men, men who are to be judged. (R. Watson.)
The contrariety betwixt the world and God
1. In the repugnancy of their natures. God is by His nature, pure, holy, undefiled, without contagion of sin, and without permission of any evil; but the world is altogether wicked, defiled with sin, full of all contagion, and deadly poison of iniquity.
2. As their natures are contrary, so are their precepts contrary. God commandeth mercy, liberality, pity, compassion; the world persuadeth cruelty, covetousness, hardness of heart, violence. God commandeth holiness to be fruitful in all good works, to His glory, and to increase therein to ripeness, and a full measure in Jesus Christ. But the world moveth us to filthy conversation, to defile ourselves with carnal lusts and all ungodliness.
3. As their precepts are contrary, so are the qualities of them which love the one and the other contrary. The lovers of God must be led by the Spirit of God, and bring forth the fruits thereof, as love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, but the servants and lovers of the world are possessed with cruelty, mercilessness, wrath. The lovers of God are pure, unrebukable, blameless before Him in love, serving Him in spirit and in truth, but the servants of the world are corrupt, deceitful from the womb, defiled with sin, flattering God with their mouth, and dissembling with Him in their double tongue.
4. Finally, the very love itself is in quality contrary. For the love of God is pure, chaste, holy, spiritual, but the love of the world is impure, unclean, profane, and sensual; wherefore no man can love God and the world. (R. Turnbull.)
The friendship of the world--enmity with God
Are we God’s people? Let us then realise the closeness and sacredness of our relation to Him. He will not allow any other being or object to share along with Him the throne of the heart, but resents every attempt and suggestion of the kind. And forget not that the world is a foreign and hostile power. Friendship with it is enmity with Him. The two are irreconcilable. Many try to please both, and fancy themselves successful. But they are grievously mistaken, for every step in its direction carries them so far away from Him, and all submission to the one is rebellion against the other. Let Christians beware of its influence, for it is stealthy and deceitful. The best defence and preservative is to have the heart filled to overflowing with the love of God--so shall the evil spirit not find the house empty, but full, and be unableto effect an entrance. Are some of you not God’s people? See how you may be admitted into His friendship; yea, how you may have Him, your Maker, as your husband. Surely it were a blessed thing to be thus united to one so great and gracious--one who can supply our every want, and deliver us from every evil--one who can be infinitely more to us than the nearest and dearest of earthly relatives, His grace alone can draw us into and fix us in this state of spiritual wedlock. And how are any made its subjects? It is only in the way of being abased, emptied of our own self-sufficiency, divested of all fancied merit, and laid at the feet of Jesus. (John Adam.)
Drawn to the world
A weeping-willow stood by the side of a pond, and, in the direction of that pond, it hung out its pensive-looking branches. An attempt was made to give a different direction to these branches. The attempt was useless: where the water lay, thither the boughs would turn. However, an expedient presented itself. A large pond was dug on the other side of the tree; and, as soon as the greater quantity of water was found there, the tree, of its own accord, bent its branches in that direction. What a clear illustration of the laws which govern the human heart! It turns to the water--the poisoned waters of sin perhaps, but the only streams with which it is acquainted. (New Cyclopaedia of Illustrations.)
When the moon shines brightest towards the earth, it is dark heavenward; and on the contrary, when it appears not, it is nearest the sun and clearest toward heaven. (Archbishop Leighton.)
The world! the world! ‘tis all title page! there’s no contents. The world! it all depends on a foolish fancy! The world! it is all deceit and lies. The world! it is all vexation--in getting, in keeping, in losing it; and whether we get or lose, we are still dissatisfied. The world! a very little cross will destroy all its comforts. The world! ‘tis only a tedious repetition of the same things. The world! will yield us no support or consolation when we most want it, namely, in the horrors of a guilty mind, and in the approaching terrors of death. The world! is unsuited to the powers, infinite passions, and immortal capacities of a soul. The world! is fickle, variable, and unstable as the wind; ‘tis always fickle, always changeable, always unstable; there is no steadfastness in its honours, riches, pleasures; ‘tis all a lie, all a lie for ever. The world I it never satisfies; we ever wish for change, whether we are high or low, rich or poor; we are always wishing for some new variety to cheat the imagination; the witchcraft of polluted pleasure decays in a moment, and dies. The world I its pleasures are exceedingly limited, and under most painful restraints, attended with bitter remorse, and followed with a horrible dread of bad consequences; the pleasures of impurity are mixed up with cursed disgusts and self-loathings, and have most dreadful damps and twinges of mind when the momentary witchcraft of pleasure is gone for ever. (J. Ryland.)
The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy
The Spirit’s jealousy
James probably meant to give the sense of Scripture, and not to quote the exact words. Scripture teaches us the truth that “the Spirit which dwelleth in us lusteth to envy,” or rather, “desireth enviously.”
I. The class of passages to which St. James seems to refer would include those in which God speaks of Himself as a “jealous” God, and impresses upon the minds of the Israelites the undivided nature of the worship He demanded from them. In such passages God is described as requiring the entire affections of His people. His feeling at the withdrawal of these affections from Him in any degree is spoken of as “jealousy.” The meaning of the text will then be, “Do you suppose that the Scriptures mean nothing when they speak of the Spirit of God dwelling in you as requiring absolute rule in your hearts, and longing eagerly after you, even to something like envy of any other influence which is gaining the mastery over your hearts?” The word here translated “lusteth” is rendered “long after,” where St. Paul says to the Philippians, “God is my record how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.”
II. This meaning of the text will be found, I think, to harmonise with the context. He asks, “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?” and adds, “whosoever, therefore, will be”--lays himself out to be--“the friend of the world is the enemy of God.” You must choose between the two. “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” “Do you think that the Scriptures speak to no purpose when they tell you that God requires your heart in a way which can only be described by saying that His Spirit longeth after you with enviousness and jealousy?”
III. This same view of religion is, as you know, continully brought before us in Scripture. Our Lord tells us that “no man can serve two masters.” With a view to testing this singleness of heart in those who desire to be His followers He gave to different persons different commands. He desired one who wished to be with Him to go home to his own house. He called upon the young man who had great possessions to abandon them and follow Him. This unreserved surrender of self to Him was the “one thing needful.” Different courses of conduct would test the “willingness” of different persons according as their circumstances or dispositions were different; but in all His disciples the same readiness was necessary in the days when tie walked this earth. In all His disciples the same disposition is necessary now. The design of the gospel is not to set us free on the earth to do as we please; but to place us in our true position as adopted children of God--to turn the heart wholly to Him so that we should not merely have His law written for us as something outside us and hostile to us--as a set of rules for slaves and bondsmen--but written by His Holy Spirit in the fleshy tables of our hearts, as the directions to which our renewed affections would turn with delight.
IV. Nor indeed would any other view of the claims and operation of the Holy Spirit be at all consistent with what we observe of all ruling influences in our minds. We all have some predominant desire or tendency which brings into subjection our other desires and tendencies, and to which they yield. This ruling principle exerts an influence upon everything we do; our other tendencies, as it were, group themselves around it, receive its instructions, and do its bidding. Everything is viewed through it as a medium. You all know what this is. And if any one of you has taken the trouble to ascertain what is, in your own case, the ruling tendency of your mind, you will know that it is a jealous tendency--that it “lusteth or longeth after you enviously.”
V. Now if the love of God--a looking to the things not seen--if holiness be our character, we must expect the Holy Spirit to exert such an influence over us as we know other powers to exert over those upon whose characters we decide by our knowledge of their ruling disposition. We must expect the indwelling Spirit to desire no rivalry--to be satisfied with nothing short of “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” But what is wonderful is, that persons coming to Church and receiving the Bible--persons who are shocked at open wickedness, and who fancy themselves shocked at it because it is spoken against in God’s Word--what is wonderful, I say, is that such persons can pass over as idle words these assertions of the nature of the Spirit’s claim on their whole heart, in the practical recognition of which consists that “holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.” Of course a view of religion so fundamentally wrong as to ignore this high notion of the yearning and jealous love of God for those in whom He vouchsafes to dwell would necessarily taint and nullify every supposed religious act of him who, in spite of Scripture, resolved to entertain it. But it is in the particular act of prayer that St. James in the passage before us asserts its ruinous tendency. Let us, then, in conclusion, see how it operates to render prayer ineffectual, and to make what ought to be our solemn service an abomination unto the Lord. Prayer may be viewed in either of two ways.
1. It is a means by which God has appointed that we shall receive that continual supply of grace and strength which is essential to the support of our spiritual life. It is thus a source of benefit and blessing for present use. Besides this, the act of prayer is--
2. In itself a training for that higher and more enduring communion with Him which we hope one day to enjoy in His Kingdom. No man prays to any purpose except he prays with a sincere wish--a wish far beyond all other wishes--that God would make him better; that God would do this--do it from the moment the prayer is uttered--and do it evermore unto the end. This must be the sincere and heartfelt longing of every one who hopes to “receive anything of the Lord.” This is precisely what, from the nature of the case, the man who is “double-minded” cannot have. (J. C.Coghlan, D. D.)
The yearning of the Divine Spirit over us
The better MSS. give a different reading of the first words: “The Spirit which He planted [or made to dwell] in us.” If we adopt this reading, it makes it all but certain that what is predicated of the Spirit” must be good, and not evil. The Greek word for “lusteth’’ conveys commonly a higher meaning than the English, and is rendered elsewhere by longing after (Romans 1:11; Philippians 1:8; Philippians 2:26; 2 Corinthians 9:14), or “earnestly desiring” 2 Corinthians 5:2), or “greatly desiring” (2 Timothy 1:4). The verb has no object, but it is natural to supply “us.” Taking these data we get as the true meaning of the words: “The Spirit which He implanted yearns tenderly over us.” The words that remain, “to envy,” admit of being taken as with an adverbial force: in a manner tending to envy.” The fact that “envy” is elsewhere condemned as simply evil, makes its use here somewhat startling. But the thought implied is that the strongest human affection shows itself in a jealousy which is scarcely distinguishable from “envy.” We grudge the transfer to another of the affections which we claim as ours. We envy the happiness of that other. In that sense St. James says that the Spirit, implanted in us, yearns to make us wholly His, and is satisfied with no divided allegiance. The root-idea of the passage is identical with that of the jealousy of God over Israel as His bride Jeremiah 3:1-11; Ezekiel 16:1-63; Hosea 2:3), of His wrath when the bride proved faithless. (Dean Plumptre.)
But He giveth more grace
The greatness of the Divine gifts a source of Christian encouragement
HE GIVETH MORE GRACE THAN WE DESERVE. That may seem a self-evident proposition. It is like saying He giveth what is undeserved to the undeserving--grace that is entirely beyond and above deserving, above all human merit of every kind. Grace is grace. Ah, how apt are we to forget this. We are so accustomed to its gifts and mercies that we seem to ourselves to have established some kind of right to them. We are so brought up among the precious things of God’s kingdom that we never pause to think that these are the fruits of amazing surpassing love. We shall never grow in grace as we ought until we have better perceptions of its true quality. It is from first to last to the undeserving. All its gifts of unbounded goodness are the unmerited expression of Divine pity and love.
II. HE GIVETH MORE GRACE THAN WE DESIRE. For we do desire it; if we be gracious persons at all, it is one of the laws of our life. Just as the seed peeps upward from the soil to see the sun as it begins to live anew--just as rivers run to the ocean, as the sun hasteth to his going down, as ships speed on to their haven, as doves fly to their windows, as the exile sighs for his native land, as the weary pilgrim longs for his home, as each man seeks his own company--so the heaven-born soul riseth to things above; the things that she desires. Have you no desire? Ah! then you are not yet a new creature. If we have no spiritual desires we have no spiritual life. We are very apt to commit mistakes as to the strength of our desire for grace. We are very apt to mistake both ways, sometimes to think it is stronger than it is, and sometimes to think it is weaker than it is. We have some temporary vehemence of affection; we mistake that for a settled desire, but God does not. He knows exactly how much there is of thirst and longing in our souls for purity, light, and love, and all that we understand by grace. He knows whether we really do wish to have more of His presence in our life, and how much. We come asking to be received as hired servants in His great house, and He makes us sons. We stand knocking at the door of the temple, hoping to be admitted to the outer court, and He makes us priests. We stand by the palace of the great King, trembling and afraid to enter, and there is no more spirit in us; when, lo! we are carried by the power of His grace into the presence of the King. Thus He conquers us with lovingkindness. “He giveth more grace”--more than we desire.
III. HE GIVES US MORE GRACE THAN WE KNOW. We are here only amid beginnings. We have the best things only in seed and germ. The precious things of the Christian resemble the farmer’s seed-corn. He lays it aside; it seems but little, but it will make his fields green next spring, and yellow next harvest, and fill his garners with plenty. Now, so the Christian has everything here, but it is in seed. The seed is precious seed, however, and although he goes forth weeping, sometimes, to sow it, he will doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. Much of our joy hereafter will be the joy of admiration, the joy of surprise. We shall say, with wonder, “Was I so rich and did not know it? Had I the germ of all this in store and yet thought of it so lightly? How could I despond, and weep and tremble as I did? But this tearful state of experience is now ended, and here I see, with adoring gratitude, that God was giving me more grace than even then I knew”
IV. HE GIVETH ALL GRACE--MORE GRACE THAN WE USE. All grace is for use, not for holding. It is likened by our blessed Lord Himself to talents, one, two, five; given to every man severally according to the man’s ability and according to the Master’s will. It is not for holding, but for casting, as we have said, like seed-corn into the field of life. There is not one of these talents of which the Master will not require an account, not one which we may hide in the ground. And yet is not this last what we are so apt to do? The evils of this course are manifest. First, we deprive ourselves of the blessedness of giving, and then we deprive others of the blessedness of receiving. But there is more evil than this, and worse. It is more than disuse of talents; it is disease, it is corruption; it is decay, destruction, death, coming by misuse. The gold and silver pieces which the miser hoards up will not, when produced years afterwards, be in the shining state they would have been by wear; and so when the talents committed to the Christian, which have been disused for a long lifetime, are brought out at last, they will not come out in the clear shining state in which they were; and the Master may then say, “Was this what I gave you these talents for? How is the fine gold become dim? I gave you pure knowledge that it might become still purer and wider, ever brightening towards perfect knowledge, and now it is all mingled with error, and the shadow of spiritual ignorance seems to have been deepening instead of passing away. I gave you clear conscience, and left it free, and you have dimmed and fettered it--fresh sympathies with all the ardour of heaven, and now you bring them back weakened and petrified. I gave you a bright eye, apt for the darting glance, and now it is dim as an old man’s vision. I gave you these talents to spend and use, and so increase; but this is only the rust of them, and it will eat a man’s flesh as it were fire.” We all have more grace than we use, but we ought to use it far more than we do. The only preparation for receiving grace is--what?--coming to receive grace. The only way in which we can be graciously better is by beginning to be better at once, and believing in God’s willingness to help us. God only requires on our parts more receptive hearts--the willing heart of love. “He giveth more grace” to such. Let us have grace then whereby may serve God. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
The gift of grace
I. THE GRACE OF GOD.
1. Grace denotes favour; that kind of favour, more especially, which flows from the mind of God into the heart of guilty man--all that we understand by “the riches of goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering”; all that awakens, informs, humbles, consoles, animates, and makes meet for “the inheritance of the saints in light.”
2. The importance of grace is unspeakable. Who but the partakers of grace can perform ode duty in a right manner?
3. Wide and glorious are the operations of Divine grace. It transforms rebels against God into loyal subjects, and the enemies of those around them into ardent friends. It shuts the gates of hell, it consecrates the whole course of life, and it insures, as well as promises, the bliss of immortality.
II. THE MANNER OF BESTOWING GRACE. “He giveth grace.”
1. Grace is indeed an absolute donation. Could we prefer a claim, we should receive, not a gift, but a debt.
2. In God is the fountain of grace, from which it emanates in every direction; and hence all that share the blessing ascribe it to Him alone, saying, “Of His grace have all we received.”
III. The grace of God in THE ABUNDANCE OF ITS COMMUNICATIONS; that is, an abundance which daily becomes larger and larger; “He giveth more grace.”
1. More is necessary. As the Christian advances in life, he has new duties to perform, new trials to bear, new temptations to encounter.
2. More is desired. It is the tendency of grace, as of everything in nature, to seek after its own increase.
3. More grace is provided. All our wants as Christians have been foreseen equally with those by which we can be affected as creatures.
1. Why do so many remain destitute of grace? They are either careless and insensible of their need of it; or they are too proud to receive it.
2. Who, then, are made partakers of grace in its amplest communications Isaiah 66:2; 1 Peter 5:5)?
3. Why should we rest satisfied with the highest measures of grace already bestowed? We are not straitened in God, but in ourselves; we “have not, because we ask not.”
4. The time is at hand when grace will be dispensed no longer. (C. A.Jeary.)
The world gives a little that it may give no more; but Christ gives “that He may give.” He gives a little grace that He may give grace upon grace. He gives a little comfort that He may give fulness of joy. Souls that are rich in grace labour after greater measures of grace out of love to grace, and because of an excellency that they see in grace. Grace is a very sparkling jewel, and be who loves it and pursues after it for its own native beauty has much of it within him. (T. Brooks.)
The abundance of grace
The fountain of God’s grace is not as a little scanty spring in the desert, round which thirsty travellers meet to strive and struggle, muddying the waters with their feet, pushing one another away, lest those waters be drawn dry by others before they come to partake of them themselves; but a mighty, inexhaustible river, on the banks of which all may stand, and of which none may grudge, lest, if others drink largely and freely, there will not remain enough for themselves. (Abp. Trench.)
More and more
See the bounty of God--ever giving and ever ready to give more!
I. OBSERVE THE TEXT IN ITS CONNECTION.
1. It presents a contrast. “The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy”; on God’s part this is met by, “but He giveth more grace.”
2. It suggests a note of admiration. What a wonder that when sin aboundeth, grace still more abounds!
3. It hints at a direction for spiritual conflict.
(1) We learn where to obtain the Weapons of our warfare: we must look to Him who gives grace.
(2) We learn the nature of those weapons: they are not legal, nor fanciful, nor ascetical, but gracious.
(3) We learn that lusting after evil must be met by the fulfilment of spiritual desires and obtaining more grace.
4. It encourages us in continuing the conflict.
5. It plainly indicates a victory. God will not give us up, but will more and more augment the force of grace, so that sin must and shall ultimately yield to its sanctifying dominion.
II. OBSERVE THE GENERAL TRUTH OF THE TEXT. God is ever on the giving hand.
1. He giveth new supplies of grace.
2. Larger supplies.
3. Higher orders.
4. He giveth more largely as the old nature works more powerfully. This should be--
(1) A truth of daily use for ourselves.
(2) A promise daily pleaded for others.
(3) A stimulus in the contemplation of higher or sterner duties, and an encouragement to enter on wider fields.
5. A solace under forebodings of deeper trouble in common life.
6. An assurance in prospect of the severe tests of sickness and death.
III. BRING IT HOME BY SPECIAL APPROPRIATION.
1. My spiritual poverty, then, is my own fault, for the Lord giveth more grace to all who believe for it.
2. My spiritual growth will be to His glory, for I can only grow because He gives more grace. Oh, to grow constantly!
3. What a good God I have to go to! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I have grace every day! every hour! When the rebel is brought, nine times a day, twenty times a day, for the space of forty years, by his prince’s grace, from under the axe, how fair and sweet are the multiplied pardons and reprievals of grace to him! In my case here are multitudes of multiplied redemptions! Here is plenteous redemption! I defile every hour, Christ washeth; I fall, grace raiseth me; i come this day, this morning, under the rebuke of justice, but grace pardoneth me; and so it is all along, till grace puts me into heaven. (Samuel Rutherford.)
Need of more grace
Were you to rest satisfied with any present attainments to which you have reached, it would be an abuse of encouragement. It would be an evidence that you know nothing of the power of Divine grace in reality, for--
“Whoever says, I want no more, Confesses he has none.”
Those who have seen their Lord, will always pray, “I beseech thee, show me Thy glory.” Those that have once tasted that the Lord is gracious, will always cry, “Evermore give us this bread to eat.” (William Jay.)
More grace wanted
When Lord North, during the American War, sent to the Rev. Mr. Fletcher, of Madeley (who had written on that unfortunate war, in a manner that had pleased the minister), to know what he wanted, he sent him word, that he wanted but one thing, which it was not in his lordship’s power to give him, and that was more grace.
God resisteth the proud
How God resisteth the proud
1. He resisteth them by punishing them for their pride against Him, as He did the builders of the turret of Babel.
2. Sometimes He resisteth the proud by hindering their purposes by some means unlocked for, as 2 Kings 19:9; Acts 4:21.
3. God resisteth the proud when He turneth their devices upon their own necks, and maketh them fall into the same mischiefs and snares which they have prepared for others (Esther 7:9).
4. God resisteth the proud by confounding their counsels, enterprises, and devices, as appeareth in proud Achitophel and others; as in the invincible navy of the proud Spaniards sent against little England, so confounded and in greatest part destroyed by the mighty hand of God.
5. God resisteth the proud by removing and taking away from them the things whereof they have been proud. Some are proud of riches, as he that said to his soul (Luke 12:20). Him God resisteth by removing him and his riches. Some are proud of beauty, whom God resisteth by sending sickness or other means to hinder and remove that from them. Some are proud of their wit; those He resisted by causing them to fall either by palsy or such like into doting folly. Some are proud of their strength, which languishing sickness abateth. Some are proud of their power, as Nebuchadnezzar, Senacherib, Antiochus, Pompey, Alexander, and the like, whom God resisteth, partly by taking away life, partly by removing their power, wherein they trusted from them.
6. God resisteth the proud when He turneth their ambition and vainglory into ignominy and shame. So God resisted Simon, the wicked sorcerer and deceiver.
7. God resisteth the proud in destroying their remembrance and cutting off their posterity from the earth for their pride and wickedness. Thereof the holy prophet David may be understood. The face of the Lord is against them which do evil, to cut off their remembrance from the earth.
8. God resisteth the proud by sending fear and terror into their hearts, whereof see Job 15:20-25; Job 18:7-10; 2 Kings 7:6; Psalms 76:5; Isaiah 10:33; Isaiah 19:16.
9. God resisteth the proud and wicked when He armeth one proud and wicked man against another, and causeth them to destroy one the other, as 2 Chronicles 20:22; Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 20:2. (R. Turnbull.)
The cure of pride; or, the lesson of humility
I. Pride is a FOOLISH thing, and for this reason we ought to try to get rid of it. Kings and princes, and persons in high stations, are often proud of the positions they bold. If they obtain these places because they are wise and good, it is God who gives them the wisdom and the goodness they have. And if He has given these good things, then it is foolish to be proud of them, But if they get these places without being wise or good, then surely it is still more foolish to be proud of them. How many persons are proud on account of their wealth. But even this money is not theirs. It is God’s. Now suppose a merchant should give twenty pounds to one of his clerks, and send him out to buy certain things, with directions to come back as soon as he got through, and give an account of how the money had been spent. And suppose that clerk should feel proud of what his employer had entrusted to him, and should boast ablaut it to his friends. Would you not think that very foolish? Certainly. And yet, if we feel proud on account of the money we have, this is just what we are doing. Another thing that persons are proud of is their dress. This is the most foolish of all things to be proud of. Instead of feeling proud of our dress, we ought rather to be ashamed of it. Our clothing is the proof that we are sinful, fallen creatures. And then, if we but remember where our clothing came from, we shall see how foolish it is to be proud of it.
II. The second reason why we ought not to be proud is because it is UNPROFITABLE. “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” We resist our enemies; and God resists the proud because He regards them as His enemies. Who would wish to be the enemy of God? Do you think it would pay to have God for an enemy? There is nothing in the world so profitable to us--nothing that is worth so much--nothing that pays so well as the grace of God. We read in another place that God “filleth the hungry with good things, but the rich He sends empty away.”
III. The third reason why we ought not to be proud is because it is DANGEROUS. We learn from the Bible that pride is a great sin; and nothing in the world is so dangerous as sin. And it is because pride is so sinful that we find such words as these in the Bible about it: “The Lord hateth a proud Proverbs 6:17); “The proud in heart are an abomination to the Proverbs 16:5). In Grecian story there is a fable about a man named Daedalus and his son Icarus, which shows the danger of pride. The fable says that Daedalus made wings for himself and his son, so that they might have the pleasure of flying. When the wings were finished, he fitted them on vein carefully with wax. Then they took their flight in the air from the island of Crete. Daedalus was humble-minded, and did not attempt to fly very high. He got on very well, passed safely over the sea, and reached the town of Cumae in Italy, near Naples, where he built a temple to one of the gods. Bat Icarus his son was a proud young man. He resolved to fly a great deal higher than his father. He went up nearer and nearer towards the sun, till the warmth of its beams melted the wax. Then his wings fell off, and down he fell, head over heels, into the sea. That part of the Mediterranean in which he fell was called the Acarian Sea. It is said to have been so named in memory of that proud young man. (R. Newton, D. D.)
God’s abhorrence and defiance of the proud
God abhors other sinners, but against the proud He professes open defiance and hostility. This was the sin that turned angels into devils. You may trace the story of pride from paradise to this day, Other sins are more hateful to man, because they bring disgrace and have more of baseness and turpitude in them, whereas pride seems to have a kind of bravery in it. But the Lord hates it, because it is a sin that sets itself most against Him. Other sins are against God’s laws, but pride is against God’s sovereignty. Pride does not only withdraw the heart from God, but lifts it up against God. Other sins are more patient of reproof, for conscience will frequently consent to the reproofs of God’s Word; but pride first blinds the mind, and then arms the affections--it lass the judgment asleep, and then awakens anger. (T. Manton.)
But giveth grace unto the humble
Humility a means of contentment
God gives grace to the humble. He holds them with complacency, often prospers their undertakings, and causes them to find various advantages in this temper of mind so agreeable to Him. Among these advantages contentment holds a foremost place.
I. The humble man is more CONTENTED WITH GOD, with His revelations, commands, ordinances, and dispensations, than he would and could be without the aid of this virtue. Humility prompts him to fall prostrate in the dust before the Most High and to adore Him as the All-wise and All-gracious, even there where he perceives naught but darkness around him.
II. The humble man is more CONTENTED WITH HIMSELF than he would and could be without the assistance of that virtue. Not that he imputes to his good qualities, his merits, a higher value than they properly profess, or satisfies himself with any, however low, degree of wisdom and virtue; but he is more contented with himself, inasmuch as he voluntarily submits to the limitations of his nature and his present state, little as it may be in itself and in comparison with what superior beings may be able to do and to enjoy.
III. For the same reason the humble man is more CONTENT WITH THE STATION HE OCCUPIES in the world and in society than he would and could be without the aid of his virtue. He knows that he everywhere finds opportunities and motives to unfold his mental powers, to be useful to his brethren, to exercise himself in obedience to God, and thus to render himself capable of higher occupations and dignities in a better world; and this ennobles and refines all that he does in his opinion, and induces him to do everything with care and conscientiousness.
IV. The humble man is far more CONTENTED WITH HIS FELLOW CREATURES than he would and could be without the aid of this virtue. The more modest the opinion he has of himself, of his talents, of his merits, the less does he expect any particular respect, reverence, or submission from others; the less does he imagine he has any right to it; the less does he insolently avail himself of any pre-eminence which he really has.
V. The humble man is more CONTENTED IN PROSPERITY AND IN AFFLUENCE than he would and could be without the aid of this virtue.
VI. The humble man is likewise more CONTENTED IN MISFORTUNES OR IN ADVERSITY than he would and could be without the aid of this virtue. He knows that as a man he is a frail creature, liable to innumerable accidents, that he has no real claim to an uninterrupted succession of prosperous days and favourable events, and that it is incompatible with the present condition of mankind; and the more sensibly he feels all this, the less is he surprised when such misfortunes actually befal him, if bad and good days alternately succeed in the course of his life. (G. J. Zollikofer.)
The humble are the fittest recipients of grace
Lumps of unrelenting guiltiness are as vessels closed up, and cannot receive grace; humility fitteth a man to receive it, and maketh a man to esteem it. The humble are vessels of a larger bore and size, fit to receive what grace giveth out. You may learn hence wily humble persons are most gracious, and gracious persons most humble. God delighteth to fill up such; they are vessels of a right bore. The valleys laugh with fatness when the hills are barren; and the laden boughs will bend their heads, &c. (T. Manton.)
It seems hard that the very grace said to be the most difficult to acquire should often make those who have won it of least account in the world. If it be so in this life, humility will only cry the louder from the grave. No force is ever lost. Sooner or later it will come upon us in all its power.
It is with us as with the reeds which grow by the riverside; when the waters overflow, the reed bows its head and bends down, and the flood passes over it without breaking it, after which it uplifts its head and stands erect in all its vigour, rejoicing in renewed life. So is it with us; we also must sometimes be bowed down to the earth and humbled, and then arise with renewed vigour and trust.
Submit yourselves therefore to God
Submitting ourselves to God
THE DUTY OF SUBMITTING OURSELVES TO GOD. This submission has its commencement and abiding root in the reception of Christ as a Saviour. The natural heart rebels against a gratuitous justification, against the renunciation of every personal claim, and the acceptance of a salvation for which we are wholly indebted to the mercy of God and the merit of Jesus. It cannot brook the humiliation of taking all as a free gift--of standing on what is not our own, but another’s, and of having nothing to boast of, nothing to glory in, but that despised object, the Cross. When we receive Him as the end of the law for righteousness, the old, proud, stubborn spirit yields, is dispossessed, and a new, meek, compliant one succeeds. The surrender thus made is not a temporary or an isolated thing; no, it is both permanent and productive--it abides and fructifies. It leads to a lasting and unlimited submission.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH, OR THE STEPS BY WHICH, THIS SUBMITTING OF OURSELVES TO GOD IS EFFECTED.
1. We must withstand Satan. If we yield a single step, tie will instantly press his advantage. Instead of submission here, our constant watchword is to be resistance--uncompromising, unceasing, growing resistance. But in order to success, let us always remember two things, which are of the last importance in tats contest. We must encounter him in Divine strength. A heavenly panoply is provided for us, and no other can enable us to conquer. We must, above all, take the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit. The Divine Word, firmly believed and wisely applied, is invincible.
2. We must approach God. Thus only can we be enabled to resist the devil. Not otherwise can we render submission and have it accepted. He will meet your advance, He will not keep aloof from you, whatever your past inconsistency, unfaithfulness--your going hack to the world, your covetous, adulterous solicitation of its friendship. Does this imply that it is not God but man himself who takes the initiative and the lead in the matter? Does he make the first advance? No; it is always and necessarily from God. He is ever the prime mover, not only preceding but actuating us; not only drawing nigh before us but prompting, causing our drawing nigh, whensoever anything of the kind really takes place. His grace brings us; His Spirit sweetly yet efficaciously disposes and enables us to approach. He must visit and quicken us before we turn our faces, or take a single step Zionward. But coming near to God implies certain feelings and exercises--a state of mind and heart suited to a proceeding so decisive andmomentous. There must be preparatory to it, or rather involved in it, the putting away of sin. Hence James couples with the call to draw nigh to Him the injunction, “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double-minded.” We are certainly not to interpret this in the sense that we can enter the holiest only after we have thus purged away our filthiness. In that case we should never approach God at all; for it is only by coming to Him that we can get the strength necessary for the purpose. We can sanctify ourselves by His grace alone--by it sought and obtained. But we are to draw nigh ever with sincere desires to be delivered from all sin; and not less with strenuous endeavours actually to forsake every evil way, to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. There must also be godly sorrow for sin. The renunciation of it can be made only through unfeigned and profound contrition. We cannot put this evil thing away without grieving over it, feeling how bitter and dreadful it is, how dishonouring to God and destructive to ourselves. A great variety of expression is here employed to intimate that the repentance must be real, deep, thorough. “Be afflicted”--be distressed, be wretched. Let sin weigh heavily upon you, making you sad, miserable in spirit. “Mourn and weep.” Be not sullen. Keep not silence. Let not emotion be shut up, but allowed to flow forth in all its natural and proper channels. “Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness,” or humiliation. The term literally signifies the casting down of the eyes, which is indicative of dejection or shame. Having thus unfolded the steps by which they were to render submission, he returns to the point from which he started. “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up” (verse 10). The one exhortation is substantially the same as the other. We are to abase ourselves, to cast away our pride, to Come down from our loftiness. We are to do it before God, in His presence. And what encouragement have we to comply with the call in the assurance, the promise by which it is accompanied? “And He shall lift you up.” He shall honour you here and hereafter, conferring on you, as His children, present grace and future glory--now the foretastes, then the full fruition of heavenly blessedness.(John Adam.)
The reason why many cannot find peace
We frequently meet with persons who tell us that they cannot find peace with God. They have been bidden to believe in the Lord Jesus, but they misunderstand the command, and, while they think the), are obeying it, they are really unbelievers; hence they miss the way of peace. They attempt to pray, but their petitions are not answered, and their supplications yield them no comfort whatever, for neither their faith nor their prayer is accepted of the Lord. Such persons are described by James in the third verse of this chapter. We cannot be content to see seekers in this wretchedness, and hence we endeavour to comfort them, instructing them again and again in the great gospel precept, “Believe and live”: yet as a rule they get no further, but linger in an unsatisfactory condition. We will go to the root of the matter, and set forth the reason for the lack of peace and salvation of which some complain.
I. First hearken to THE COMPREHENSIVE COMMAND. “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” According to the connection, the fighting spirit within many men shows that they have not submitted themselves to God; lusting, envy, strife, contention, jealousy, anger, all these things declare that the heart is not submissive, but remains violently self-willed and rebellious. Those who are still wrathful, proud, contentious, and selfish, are evidently unsubdued. A want of submission is no new or rare fault in mankind; ever since the fall it has been the root of all sin. Man wants to be his own law, and his own master. This is abominable, since we are not our own makers; for “it is He that hath made us and not we ourselves.” The Lord should have supremacy over us, for our existence depends on His will. The hemlock of sin grows in the furrows of opposition to God. When the Lord is pleased to turn the hearts of opposers to the obedience of the truth, it is an evident token of salvation; in fact, it is the dawn of salvation itself. To submit to God is to find rest. The rule of God is so beneficial that He ought readily to be obeyed. He never commands us to do that which, in the long run, can be injurious to us; nor does He forbid us anything which can be to our real advantage. All resistance against God must, from the necessity of the case, be futile. Common sense teaches that rebellion against Omnipotence is both insanity and blasphemy. And then let it always be known that submission to God is absolutely necessary to salvation. A man is not saved until he bows before the supreme majesty of God. Now, it is generally in this matter of submission that the stumbling-block lies in the way of souls when seeking peace with God. It keeps them unsaved, and as I have already said, necessarily so, because a man who is not submissive to God is not saved; he is not saved from rebellion, he is not saved from pride, he is still evidently an unsaved man, let him “think whatever he will of himself.
1. Now, in the saved man there is and must be a full and unconditional submission to the law of God. If you say in your heart, “He is too strict in marking sin, and too severe in punishing it,” what is this but condemning your Judge? If you say, “He calls me to account for idle words, and even for sins of ignorance, and this is hard,” what is this but to call your Lord unjust? Should the law be amended to suit your desires? Should its requirements be accommodated to ease your indolence?
2. And before a man can have peace with God he must submit himself to the sentence of the law. If your plea be “not guilty,” you will be committed for trial according to justice, but you cannot be forgiven by mercy. You are in a hopeless position; God Himself cannot meet you upon that ground, for He cannot admit that the law is unrighteous and its penalty too heavy.
3. A man must next submit himself to the plan of salvation by grace alone. If you come with anything like a claim the Lord will not touch the case at all, for you have no claim, and the pretence of one would be an insult to God. If you fancy you have demands upon God, go into the court of justice and plead them, but the sentence is certain to be against you, for by the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified.
4. You must also submit yourselves to God’s way of saving you through an atoning sacrifice and by means of your personal faith in that sacrifice.
5. And then there must be full submission to God in the matter of giving up every sin. Either you must cast sin out of your heart or it will keep you out of heaven.
6. If we would be saved there must be submission to the Lord as to all His teachings; a very necessary point in this age, for a multitude of persons, who appear to be religious, judge the Scriptures instead of allowing the Scriptures to judge them.
7. And now I must ask another question of you who desire peace and cannot find it: have you submitted yourself to the providential arrangements of God? I know persons who have a quarrel with God. He took away a beloved object, and they not only thought Him unkind and cruel at the time, but they think so still. Like a child in a fit of the sulks, they cast an evil eye upon the great Father. They are not at peace, and never will be till they have owned the Lord’s supremacy, and ceased from their rebellious thoughts. If they were in a right state of heart they would thank the Lord for their sharp trials, and consent to His will, as being assuredly right. Yield yourselves unto God, and pray to be delivered from future rebellion. If you have submitted, do so yet more completely, for so shall you be known to be Christians when you submit yourselves unto God.
II. Now consider the other and FOLLOWING PRECEPTS. I think I am not suspicious without reason when I express a fear that the preaching which has lately been very common, and in some respects very useful, of “only believe and you shall be saved,” has sometimes been altogether mistaken by those who have heard it. Repentance is as essential to salvation as faith: indeed there is no faith without repentance except the faith which needs to be repented of. A dry-eyed faith will never see the kingdom of God. A holy loathing for sin always attends upon a childlike faith in the Sin-bearer. Where the root grace of faith is found other graces will grow from it. Now notice how the Spirit of God, after having bidden us submit, goes on to show what else is to be done. He calls for a brave resistance of the devil.
1. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” The business of salvation is not all passive, the soul must be aroused to active warfare. I am not only to contend with sin, but with the spirit which foments and suggests sin. I am to resist the secret spirit of evil as well as its outward acts. “Oh,” saith one, “I cannot give up an inveterate habit.” Sir, you must give it up; you must resist the devil or perish. “But I have been so long in it,” cries the man. Yes, but if you truly trust Christ your first effort will be to fight against the evil habit. Ay, and if it is not a habit merely, nor an impulse, but if your danger lies in the existence of a cunning spirit who is armed at all points, and both strong and subtle, yet you must not yield, but resolve to resist to the death, cheered by the gracious promise that he will flee from you.
2. Next the apostle writes, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” lie who believes in Christ sincerely will be much in prayer; yet there are some who say, “We want to be saved,” but they neglect prayer.
3. The next precept is, “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners.” What! does the Word of God tell sinners to cleanse their hands and purify their hearts? Yes, it does. When a man comes to God and says, “I am willing and anxious to be saved, and I trust Christ to save me,” and yet he keeps his dirty, black hands exercised in filthy actions, doing what he knows is wrong, does he expect God to hear him? If you do the devil’s work with your hands, do not expect the Lord to fill them with His blessing.
4. Then it is added, “Purify your hearts, ye double-minded.” Can they do this? Assuredly not by themselves, but still in order to peace with God there must be so much purification of the heart that it shall no longer be double-minded. When you cease trying to serve two masters, and submit yourselves unto God, He will bless you, but not till then. I believe that this touches the centre of the mischief in many of those hearts which fail to reach peace; they have not given up sin, they are not whole-hearted after salvation.
5. Then the Lord bids us “be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.” I grieve to say that I have met with persons who say, “I cannot find peace, I cannot get salvation,” and talk very prettily in that way; but yet outside the door they are giggling one with another, as if it were matter of amusement. What right have you with laughter while sin is unforgiven, while God is angry with you? Nay, go to Him in fitter form and fashion, or He will refuse your prayers. Be serious, begin to think of death, and judgment, and wrath to come.
6. Then the Lord sums up His precepts by saying, “Humble yourselves in the sight of God.” There must be a deep and lowly prostration of the spirit before God. If your heart has never been broken, how can He bind it up? If it was never wounded, how can He heal it? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
On submission to God
I. THE DUTY REQUIRED. We are to submit ourselves unto God.
1. The first step in submission to God has respect to the truths of revelation. The cordial reception of these, however sublime or profound, however obscure or clear, lies at the foundation of all personal religion. It is no degradation of our reason to make it submissive to what God has spoken, although we may not be able fully to understand it in all its bearings. God only wise must know better than man, and therefore the scholar must bow, and not the Teacher.
2. But the submission particularly intended here, has respect to the discipline of God. Does any one ask for illustration? It was displayed by Aaron who held his peace when his two sons fell in death, judicially smitten down by the righteous decree of God. It was evinced by king Hezekiah, who, when the prophet announced the impending destruction of the monarch and his throne, replied to the terrible intelligence--“Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken.” It was exhibited in the placid spirit of the sorrow-smitten David, when, amidst the cursings of Shimei who was a ringleader in the conspiracy of Absolom, he said to his faithful servant Abishai--“Let him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him.” It was seen in the meek and placid spirit of Eli when rebuked for his remissness of parental authority, and the ephod was to be taken from his family, he exclaimed in words of exemplary resignation, “it is the Lord, let Him do as seemeth Him good.” It was apparent in the conduct of Job, when messenger after messenger brought him the dismal tidings of the destruction of his cattle, his servants, and his children, “he fell down upon the ground and worshipped, and said--the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” And more than all, it is the spirit and temper of Him who said--“The cup which My father hath given
Me, shall I not drink it?” Such are instances of resignation. It is the filial submission of the will and the heart to a parent’s conduct. It is the enlightened and sanctified acquiescence of our inner nature with the dealings of God, under the conviction that all His ways are just and good, and that He has our welfare in view by every trial He sends us.
II. THE GROUNDS ON WHICH THE DUTY OF SUBMISSION IS COMMENDED AND REQUIRED.
1. The first is the universal disposal of a righteous and gracious providence. There is no truth clearer to the thoughtful mind than this, that nothing can be beyond the notice or the power of God; and yet there is no truth less practically received by a large part of mankind.
2. Submission is our duty--our reasonable duty, as sinful and dependent creatures. Can a child span with its little fingers the vast expanse of the heavens? Can a mortal hand grasp the globe in its palm? Just as easily can our finite minds take in the entire scheme of Him who is wonderful in counsel and mighty in working.
3. The third ground of submission is the great doctrine of redemption. The love of One who has loved us, suffered and died for us, snatched us from the verge of everlasting woe, placed us beneath the light of the loving-kindness and tender mercy of God, called us to seek and find, if we will, a crown of heavenly glory--may well constrain us to submit for a little while to a discipline which He judges necessary to train us for the inheritance He has procured for all the redeemed.
4. Another consideration on which this duty is founded is that repining is as fruitless as it is sinful. (H. Hunter.)
Humble submission to God
1. The thing enjoined is submission to God, proceeding from humility, than which nothing is or can be more acceptable unto Him, nothing more commendable among men. Men submit themselves unto God divers ways.
(1) In obediently and reverently yielding themselves to His Word and will, in hearing what He commandeth and carefully performing what He enjoineth.
(2) As by obeying His will men submit themselves unto God, so by yielding themselves to God’s pleasure, to do with them after His will, men likewise submit themselves unto Him.
(3) Neither thus only submit men themselves unto God, but also when they bear with patience the cross which the Lord layeth upon them, then submit men themselves to God.
2. The next thing in this first part of duty is the contrary: we must submit ourselves to God, but we must resist the devil also. Wherein we are taught whither all our strivings must tend, even to the withstanding of Satan, with whom we have continual war, and therefore ought we wholly to bend ourselves with all might against him.
(1) Now the devil is sundry ways resisted of men, first by faith in Jesus Christ, wherewith we are armed, stand fast without wavering, and thereby resist the assaults of Satan.
(2) As we resist him by faith, so also we resist him by prayer, when in our manifold temptations we fly by prayer unto God for succour against the devil--our ancient enemy.
(3) Moreover the saints resist the devil when they earnestly give themselves over to the study of virtue and practice of godliness, serving the Lord in righteousness and true holiness of life. Hereby all entry for Satan is shut up; hereby all holes of our hearts are stopped so that he cannot invade us.
(4) Satan is, besides this, resisted of the saints when they oppose the law and commandment, the will and the Word of God, to his suggestions and wicked temptations.
(5) To conclude, this our enemy is resisted by the aid of God’s Spirit, and by the presence of His power, whereby we subdue our enemies, therefore we are exhorted to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Therefore is the spirit of power, the spirit of might, the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of strength, the spirit of fortitude, promised by Christ, that by the help thereof, not only our mortal enemies, but our ghostly adversaries, might be resisted by us.
(3) The precept and the contrary being thus set down, the third thing in the former part of duty is the reason of the contrary, why we should oppose ourselves unto Satan and set ourselves to resist him. Which reason is drawn from hope of victory: if we thus and by all means resist him then is he put to flight. Wherefore he may be compared to the crocodile who, as it is affirmed, fleeth away when a man turneth boldly unto him, but followeth very fiercely when he is not resisted. So Satan, that old dragon, that cruel crocodile, fleeth when he is resisted, but followeth us hardly when we give place unto him. (R. Turnbull.)
This advice should not need much pressing. “Submit yourselves unto God”--is it not right upon the very face of it? Is it not wise? Does not conscience tell us that we ought to submit? Does not reason bear witness that it must be best to do so?” Submit yourselves unto God”--it is what angels do, what kings and prophets have done, what the best of men delight in--there is therefore no dishonour nor sorrow in so doing. All nature is submissive to His laws; suns and stars yield to His behests, we shall be but in harmony with the universe in willingly bowing to His sway. “Submit yourselves unto God”--you must do it whether you are willing to do so or not. Who can stand out against the Almighty?” Submit yourselves unto God” is a precept which to thoughtful men is a plain dictate of reason, and it needs few arguments to support it. Yet because of our foolishness the text enforces it by a “therefore,” which “therefore” is to be found in the previous verse--“He resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God.” His wrath and His mercy both argue for submission. The Romans were wont to say of their empire that its motto was to spare the vanquished, but to war continually against the proud. This saying aptly sets forth the procedure of the Most High. He aims all His arrows at the lofty, and turns the edge of His sword against the stubborn; but the moment He sees signs of submission His pity comes to the front, and through the merits of His Son His abounding mercy forgives the fault. Is not this an excellent reason for submission?
I. To THE PEOPLE OF GOD, “Submit yourselves unto God.” He is your God, your Father, your Friend, yield yourselves to Him. What does this counsel mean?
1. It means, first, exercise humility. The right position of a Christian is to walk with lowly humility, before God, and with meekness towards his fellow-Christians. The lowest room becomes us most, and the lowest seat in that room.
2. Let us next observe that our text bears a second meaning, namely, that of submission to the Divine will--that of course would strike you in the wording of the verse, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” Be willing to accept whatever God appoints. It is a happy thing when the mind is brought to submit to all the chastisements of God, and to acquiesce in all the trials of His providence. Knowing as we do that all these things work together for our good, and that we never endure a smart more than our heavenly Father knows to be needful, we are bound to submit ourselves cheerfully to all that He appoints. Though no trial for the present is joyous, but grievous, yet ought we to resign ourselves to it because of its after results.
3. It means also obedience. Do not merely passively lie back and yield to the necessities of the position, but gird up the loins of your mind, and manifest a voluntary and active submission to your great Lord. It is not ours to question, that were to become masters; but ours it is to obey without questioning, even as soldiers do. Submission to our Lord and Saviour will be manifested by ready obedience: delays are essentially insubordinations, and neglects are a form of rebellion.
4. “Submit yourselves to God” by yielding your hearts to the motions of the Divine Spirit; by being impressible, sensitive, and easily affected. The Spirit of God has hard work with many Christians to lead them in the right way; they are as the horse and the mule which have no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle. There is the stout oak in the forest, and a hurricane howls through it, and it is not moved, but the rush by the river yields to the faintest breath of the gale. Now, though in many things ye should be as the oak and not as the rush, yet in this thing be ye as the bulrush and be moved by the slightest breathing of the Spirit of God. The photographer’s plates are rendered sensitive by a peculiar process: you shall take another sheet of glass and your friend shall stand before it as long as ever he likes, and there will be no impression produced, at least none which will be visible to the eye; but the sensitive plate will reveal every little wrinkle of the face and perpetuate every hair of the head. Oh, to be rendered sensitive by the Spirit of God, and we can be made so by submitting ourselves entirely to His will.
II. I desire now to address myself TO THOSE WHO ARE NOT SAVED, but have some desire to be so. You tell me that you have been anxious about your soul for some time, but have made no headway. It is very possible that the reason is this, that you have not submitted yourself to God; you are trying to do when the best thing would be to cease from yourself and drop into the hand of the Saviour who is able to save you, though you cannot save yourself. For a proud heart the very hardest thing is to submit. “How, then, am I to submit?” says one: “To what shall I submit, and in what respects?”
1. Well, first, submit thyself, if thou wouldest be saved, to the Word of God. Believe it to be true. Believing it to be true, yield thyself to its force.
2. Yield thyself, next, to thy conscience. He was a fool who killed the watch-dog because it alarmed him when thieves were breaking into his house. If conscience upbraid thee, feel its upbraiding and heed its rebuke. It is thy best friend; faithful are its friendly wounds, but the kisses of a flattering enemy are deceitful.
3. God also sends many messengers. To some of you He has sent the tenderest of monitors. Hearken to their admonitions and regard their kind warnings, for they mean good to thy soul. Remember, God has other messengers whom He will send if these loving ones do not suffice. He will soon send thee a sterner summons. Be not so foolish as to provoke Him so to do.
4. Moreover, submit yourselves to God, since He has, perhaps, already sent His messengers in sterner shapes to you. It was but a few days ago that you lost your old friend. Is there no voice from that new-made grave to you? Methinks your friend in his sudden end was a warning to you to be ready for the like departure! You have also yourself suffered from premonitory symptoms of sickness; perhaps you have actually been sick, and been made to lie where your only prospect was eternity; a dread eternity, how surely yours. I charge you, hear the voice of these providences; listen to these solemn calls,
5. Above all, I pray you submit yourselves, if you are conscious of such things, to the whispers of God’s Holy Spirit. The worst man that lives has his better moments, the most careless has some serious thoughts: there are lucid intervals in the madness of carnal pleasure. At such times men hear what they call” their better selves.” It is hardly so. I prefer to call it the general reprovings of God’s Spirit in their souls. “Submit yourselves to God.” If you ask me again, “In what respect am I to submit myself?”
(1) I answer, first submit yourself by confessing your sin. Cry peccavi. Condemn yourself and you shall not be condemned. Confess the indictment to be true, for true it is, and to deny it is to seal your doom.
(2) Next, honour the law which condemns you. Do not persevere in picking holes in it and saying that it is too severe, and requires too much of a poor fallible creature. The law is holy, and just, and good.
(3) Next, own the justice of the penalty. Confess with thy heart, “If my soul were sent to hell it is no more than I deserve.” It will go well with you when you make a full capitulation, an unconditional surrender. Fling wide the gates of the city of Mansoul, and admit the prince Emmanuel to rule as sole sovereign in every street in the city. Thou shall find grace in the sight of the Lord if thou wilt do this.
(4) Furthermore, submit yourself to God’s way of saving you. Now God’s way of saving you is by His grace, not by your merits; by the blood of Jesus, not by your tears and sufferings. He bids you trust His Son Jesus; will you do so or not? If you will not, there is no hope for you; if you will, you are saved the moment that you believe--saved from the guilt of sin by trusting Jesus.
(5) You must also surrender yourself at discretion to His method of operating upon you. He tells thee plainly, “If thou believest on the Lord Jesus Christ thou shall be saved.” Wilt thou believe or no? For if thou dost not, neither dreams, nor visions, nor terrors, nor anything else can save thee. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Submission to God
1. Man must “submit himself” to God as the God of the gospel. In dealing with men as sinners, the offended, but most merciful, Majesty of heaven has proposed certain terms as those on which alone He will receive any guilty soul into peace and favour with Himself. These terms are admirably fitted to harmonise the salvation of the sinner with the righteousness of God’s government and the threatenings of His law. But pride, and other feelings, in the human heart, are wont to rise up against them. Many “going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” But submission to this righteousness must be realised in all who would be justified.
2. Man must submit himself to God as the Lawgiver. In offering pardon Heaven does not absolve the sinner from the moral obligation of the law. Naturally, man rises up, both against the duties which the law prescribes, and against the law which prescribes them; and even where some general submission is indicated towards both, particular parts are apt to be resisted and opposed. But the law of God is wise, and right, and good, in all its principles (James 2:11). The more arduous are as truly matters of obligation as the more easy duties. And man, as under law to God in all things, must in all things “submit” himself to Him.
3. Man must “submit himself to God” as the God of providence. Many are the considerations by which this threefold submission to God might be enforced.
(1) Among these is the character of God Himself--more especially His rightful supremacy, His unerring wisdom, His unsullied justice, His irresistible power, His generous love, and His unswerving faithfulness, alike to the threatenings and the promises which He addresses to His creatures.
(2) Here, by the connective word “therefore,” the oracular saying, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the lowly,” is brought to bear, as an enforcement, on the rule, “Submit yourselves to God.” And the argument is both clear and strong. If “God sets Himself in battle array against the proud,” shall a man proudly refuse to submit to Him? If “God giveth grace to the lowly,” Shall not the creature yield meek submission to the Creator, and cast himself in dust and ashes at His feet? (A. S.Patterson, D. D.)
Submission to God
I. EXPLAIN THE NATURE OF THE SUBMISSION HERE ENJOINED.
1. We should submit to God in His authoritative sway.
2. We should submit to God in His gracious influences.
3. Submit yourselves to God in His providential dispensations.
II. URGE THE REASONS FOR REDUCING IT TO PRACTICE.
1. We urge it from a consideration of the greatness and goodness of the Being to whom you are called to submit.
2. We urge it on the ground of relationship and obligation.
3. We urge it for the salve of your personal happiness.
4. We urge it from a consideration of the punishment which inevitably follows the crime of non-submission to God. (Sketches of Sermons.)
The duty and advantages of submission to God
I. SOME PARTICULARS IN WHICH WE ARE TO EXERCISE SUBMISSION TO GOD.
1. We are to submit to God with respect to His providential dispensations towards us.
2. We are to submit to His commands. We may object; we may try to find excuses for disobedience, but till we thus unreservedly submit to God, He will treat us as rebels against His authority.
II. A FEW OF THE REASONS WHY WE SHOULD THUS SUBMIT TO GOD.
1. We must submit, because we can make no resistance to any of His appointments.
2. It is good for us to submit ourselves unto God, because He knows what is best for us.
3. The consequences of thus submitting to Him are--
(1) Peace in this world.
(2) Happiness in the world to come. (B. Scott, M. A.)
Submission to God
There is a threefold submission to God: of our carnal hearts to His holiness; of our proud hearts to His mercy; and of our revolting hearts to His sovereignty; and all this that we may be pure, humble, and obedient. (T. Manton.)
Submission to God
The submission that makes no merit of its cross; that does not venture to choose one lighter than the Lord lays on us; that does not seek the ability to bear it in the delirium of pleasure, or the drugs of the world, or the deadening influence of time and change; that does net compare your cross with those borne by others, or ask an explanation of it till the day break and the shadows flee away, but bears it all with a child’s love for His sake who did not impose it till He had borne all the weight and sharpness of all the world’s crosses together--this is the victory. The earth has no fatal fear, and no insupportable sorrow in it after you have come to this; you are free in a boundless liberty, strong in immortal strength, and at peace in a peace too deep for the understanding to explain, or any sufferings to disturb. (Bp. Huntington.)
Submission to God
It is no less our interest than our duty to keep the mind in an habitual frame of submission. “Adam,” says Dr. Hammond, “after his expulsion, was a greater slave in the wilderness than he had been in the enclosure.” If the barbarian ambassador came expressly to the Romans to negotiate, on the part of his country, for permission to be their servants, declaring that a voluntary submission, even to a foreign power, was preferable to a wild and disorderly freedom, well may the Christian triumph in the peace and security to be obtained by an unreserved submission to Him who is emphatically called the God of order.
Submission to God’s will
Payson was asked, when under great bodily affliction, whether he could see any particular reason for this dispensation. “No,” replied he, “but I am as well satisfied as if I could see ten thousand; God’s will is the very perfection of all reason.”
Few things are easier than to perceive, to extol the goodness of God, the bounty of Providence, the beauties of nature, when all things go well, when our health, our spirits, our circumstances, conspire to fill our hearts with gladness, and our tongues with praise. This is easy, this is delightful, None but they who are sunk in sensuality, sottishness, and stupefaction, or whose understandings are dissipated by frivolous pursuits; none but the most giddy and insensible can be destitute of these sentiments. But this is not the trial, or the proof. It is in the chambers of sickness; under the stroke of affliction; amidst the pinchings of want, the groans of pain, the pressures of infirmity; in grief, in misfortune; through gloom and horror--that it will be seen, whether we hold fast our hope, our confidence, our trust in God; whether this hope and confidence be able to produce in us resignation, acquiescence, and submission. And as those dispositions, perhaps from the comparative perfection of our moral nature, could not have been exercised in a world of unmixed gratification, so neither would they have found their proper office or object in a state of strict and evident retribution--that is, in which we had no sufferings to submit to but what were evidently and manifestly the punishment of our sins. A mere submission to punishment, evidently and plainly such, would not have constituted--at least, would very imperfectly have constituted--the disposition which we speak of--the true resignation of a Christian.(Paley.)
Yielding ourselves up to God
Here is a physician who has for months been tracing an obscure disease, from which he has been suffering, to its secret cause. Very acute has been the reasoning process by which he has been approaching to a certain conclusion as to the nature of the disease. At last the cause is plain. And what does he find? That an operation is necessary if he would regain health. He cheerfully puts himself into the hand of others; suffers them to reduce him to unconsciousness; leaves himself entirely in their hands; and by and by he wakens up to find, by means he had no consciousness of, the obstacle removed, and his way open to returning health. This is a rational and sober-minded process right through. And when we--convinced of our morally diseased condition, which makes it impossible for us to enter into a full and hearty appropriation of salvation--yield ourselves up in self-despair, that God may work in us to will and do, the spirit of our action is precisely that of the physician. Presently we waken up to the first glad consciousness of faith, to the joy of surrender, to the dawning realisation of a new life--begotten to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Resist the devil, and he will flee
The right warfare
I. HERE YOU HAVE AMPLE SCOPE FOR YOUR FIGHTING INSTINCTS. “Resist the devil”--
1. As you find him on the arena of your own soul. The most terrific battles are fought within, the most illustrious victories are won there.
2. As you find him in the arena of society. He is not only in the grosser habits of life, and the corrupter institutions of society, but in literature, friendships, and even religions.
II. HERE YOU HAVE GLORIOUS ENCOURAGEMENT FOR YOUR FIGHTING INSTINCTS. “He will flee from you.”
1. You are provided with armour before which he must flee.
2. You are associated with allies before whom he must flee.
3. You are commanded by a leader before whom he must flee. (Homilist.)
Resist the devil
I. THE FOE.
1. His power. Can suggest ideas to the mind. Inflame the evil desires of the soul.
2. His diligence. Continually going about as roaring lion. If repulsed a hundred times, he tries again.
3. His malice. Envies all human happiness.
4. His policy. Crafty and subtle.
5. His experience. Has long studied human nature, and practised the art of deceiving mankind.
II. THE FIGHT. “Resist”--not dispute. To parley with him is to be conquered.
1. General orders.
(1) Be sober. Physically. Mentally. Pride, anger, love of pleasure, incapacitate the soul for this warfare.
(2) Be vigilant. His time is always ready.
(3) Be united. Call in all your allies. Stand shoulder to shoulder.
2. Tried weapons.
(1) Word of God.
(2) Past experience.
(3) Earnest prayer.
3. Invincible armour (Ephesians 6:10-18).
III. THE FLIGHT.
1. This promise imports temporary flight. In this life, he flees only to rally his forces and return. But constant resistance, while it strengthens the Christian, weakens the adversary.
2. This promise implies final flight (Romans 16:20). Lessons:
1. A Christian’s life is no easy one.
2. A Christian’s life is a most blessed one. (R. A. Griffin.)
Resistance of evil
Nothing is more plainly taught in the Scriptures than that men are exposed to Satanic influence. If God “worketh in Christians to will and to do,” Satan is the” spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience.” If the sanctified are said to be “filled with the Holy Ghost,” “why,” said Peter to Ananias, “hath Satan filled thy heart?” This is the being, then, whom we are commanded to resist.
1. And, among other reasons for so doing, I will mention, first, this--our ability to do it. We can resist evil. No one is compelled to sin. To each proposition of virtue and vice you finally say “Yes” or “No.” Nothing brings out so sharply the personality of man as some act of sin. It brings him out into the foreground as an agent. He has the universe as the witness to his conduct. His decision is his decision, and against God, in whom all which is assailable by vice finds expression. I wish each of you, in whatever you may purpose of evil, to feel this. Upon the edge of this terrible ability to resist God plant yourself, and behold the abyss at your feet.
2. Out of this thought comes also what might be called the hopefulness of morality. The assurance, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” is a blessed and needed one. The thought that you can succeed in keeping your hand and heart clean is a constant inspiration to persevere. The contest, as waged by every man and woman against evil, is no longer a heavy, dragging spiritless contest, but a brave and hopeful one. The current we stand in is deep, swift, and hissing; and who of us, at times, is not swayed and staggered by it? But there is no reason why, by care and effort--a careful placing of the feet, and keeping our powers well collected--we cannot make headway against it. We do make headway. The Light that has come into the world, and shined upon so many hearts, is quickening the germinal capacities of man for virtue. The race is slowly but surely forging ahead. The waters behind are white with the freshening breeze; and the purposes of God, like a mighty wind, will put an increasing pressure upon the sails, and blow them grandly along. As a fleet of great merchant-men, impelled by the steady trade winds--their yards like bars of gold, their ropes like lines of ruby--go sailing at morning towards the east and the rising sun; so the race, in all its powers and motives, will be grandly luminous as it moves on into the light of the millennium. To live ignobly is, therefore, to live unworthy of your clearest possibilities. In the waters of this assurance the dirtiest may wash and be cleansed. Only “resist evil,” only stand firm, only try, and whatever of good you in your better moments crave will come to you, and abide with you, as the light of the sun to-day comes to the earth, elicting its manifold fruitage, and illuminating it from pole to pole. Yea, your life shall be like a globe belted and zoned with expressions of life; and never shall there be an hour when some portion of it shall not be in flower and fruitfulness.
3. But again: the wisdom of this injunction, “Resist the devil,” is seen when you reflect that in resistance, and resistance alone, is safety. Between this and some other course there is no election; you must fight, or die. On some streams you can drift; but, in the rapids which plunge hellward, no man can lie on his back, and float; he must keep in quick nervous action, or sink. (W. H. H. Murray.)
The Christian champion
The enemy who meets me fairly on the field of battle is very different from the assassin who steals upon me in the dark, when unprepared, to rob me of my life. The one I may overcome, but the other nothing can shield me from but the all-watchful providence of my God. Now Satan is the assassin, and not the open enemy; how, then, is he to be resisted?
1. In the first place, we must resist him boldly and at once. There must be no parleying with him, no yielding to him even in the slightest thing, no shrinking from his attack: to shrink from him is only to make him more bold, while to resist him, resting simply on the atonement of Jesus, is to drive him from us, vanquished and overcome.
2. In the next place, we must resist the devil constantly; because he is unceasing in his assaults, we are never safe from him, no, not for an instant, under any circumstances or in any place.
3. In the next place, we must resist the devil “strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” All other resistance is utterly vain: we have no power in ourselves.
4. In the next place, we must resist Satan clad in the whole armour of God Ephesians 6:11; Ephesians 6:13). Mark it well, it is not a part, but the whole armour which is to be put on; not one part of that armour must be missing, or we at once expose a point of attack to our adversary. Mark again, the armour must be put on; it is not Rive us to look at, but to use. Mark again, whence is this armour to be obtained? only from heaven.
5. Yet once more, we must resist the devil watchfully and prayerfully. (A. W. Shape, M. A.)
Resist the devil
1. This resistance must extend to all the variety of his temptations. We must beware of resisting him in one or more, and making this a kind of compensation for yielding to him in others.
2. He applies his temptations to those lusts and passions of the old nature which remain in us, and especially to those which, by the study of our character, he knows to be the strongest, and most apt to yield--those which “most easily beset us.” The most effectual resistance we can make to him, therefore, is a constant and strenuous opposition to these--whichsoever of them we are conscious, from our experience, have most power within us. And, as his temptations are often sudden--meant to take us at unawares--this vigilance over our own hearts must be constant and unremitting--“lest he find us off our guard.”
3. The resistance must be made in the strength of God. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
The devil put to flight
Luther says: “Once upon a time the devil said to me, ‘Martin Luther, you are a great sinner, and you will be damned!’ ‘Stop! stop!’ said I; one thing at a time; I am a great sinner, it is true, though you have no right to tell me it. I confess it. What next? “Therefore you will be damned.” That is not good reasoning. It is true I am a great sinner, but it is written, “Jesus Christ came to save sinners”; therefore I shall be saved! Now go your way.’ So I cut the devil off with his own sword, and he went away mourning because he could not cast me down by calling me a sinner.”
Answer to the devil
A minister asked a little converted boy, “Does not the devil tell you that you are not a Christian?” “Yes, sometimes.” “Well, what do you say?” “I tell him,” replied the boy, “whether I am a Christian or not is none of his business.” (New Cycle. of Illustrations.)
Temptation sometimes subtle
If any temptation to spoil your purposes happens in a religious duty, do not presently omit the action, but rather strive to rectify your intention and to mortify the temptation. St. Bernard taught us this rule: for when the devil, observing him to preach excellently, and to do much benefit to his hearers, tempted him to vain-glory, hoping that the good man to avoid that would cease preaching, he gave this answer only, “I neither began for thee, neither for thee will I make an end.” (Jeremy Taylor, D. D.)
Fighting the devil
He who would fight the devil with his own weapons must not wonder if he finds him an over match. (R. South.)
In an old tower on the Continent they show you, graven again and again on the stones of one of the dungeons, the word “Resist.” It is said that a Protestant woman was kept in that hideous place for forty years, and during all that time her employment was in graving with a piece of iron, for any one who might come after her, that word. It is a word that needs to be engraven on every young man and young woman’s heart. It represents the highest form of courage which to them is possible--the power to say “No” to every form of temptation. (J. C. Lees, D. D.)
The devil to be resisted
A gentleman, who has spent many years of his life in capturing wild animals, says of the wolf, that, when attacked, he will first note the earnestness with which the enemy presses the attack, and, if he shows great determination, he scampers away. But if he detects the least fear in his pursuer’s movements, he will defend himself with great bravery. The same way with old Satan: he tempts us by first placing some trivial thing in our path; and if we offer no resistance, he suddenly attacks us with all his force, and overcomes us.
Draw nigh to God
Draw nigh to God
THE DUTY here required of us by the apostle principally implies a life of prayer and devotedness to God, as contrasted with the careless indifference or the dull formality of nominal or pretended Christians.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT given to perform this duty. What great reason have we to be animated in our Christian warfare by the presence and support of the Lord of hosts!
III. THE IMPORTANCE of obeying this injunction to our final happiness and security. (John Grose, M. A.)
The reasonableness and blessedness of prayer
Worshipping with a pious heart is evidently the manner of drawing nigh to God, which the apostle had in mind when he penned the text. Under the Jewish dispensation, drawing near to God in worship was a more literal thing than it is under the Christian dispensation. In the temple, God had His dwelling-place as a King in His palace. It will not be understood from this that Jewish worship was only of this outward, ceremonial character. The heart was required of them as well as of us (Isaiah 29:13-14). Nevertheless, under the Christian dispensation, the worship of God is more strictly of a spiritual character. The duty of worshipping God is no less the dictate of reason and of common sense, than of Scripture. It has been the sentiment of mankind, universally, that children ought to cherish peculiar respect fur their parents. So men have always deemed it proper to specially regard and honour those high in authority. Can those who thus honour parents and magistrates deny the obligation to do homage to Him who is at once their Maker, their Sovereign, and their Judge? Prayer.
I. ITS REASONABLENESS.
1. God has enjoined it. It must be counted reasonable to do what God has commanded, and most unreasonable to disregard His positive injunctions. “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.”--“Continuing instant in prayer.”--“Pray without ceasing.”
2. The reasonableness of prayer may be shown from the example of the Saviour.
3. The reasonableness of prayer is manifest when we consider what we are--
(1) As needy and dependent creatures. Every hour of our lives brings with it wants which must be supplied, or we suffer and die.
(2) As sinful and unworthy creatures. No one has, or can have, any other idea of prayer, than as being addressed to the mercy of God; and when that mercy invites us freely to come and make known our desires, it is most unreasonable in us not to avail ourselves of the privilege.
(3) As dying and accountable creatures. Who can feel easy in view of future accountability, whose heart has never been sufficiently grateful to acknowledge the Divine goodness, nor sufficiently humble to confess its sins and seek the Divine forgiveness?
4. As showing the reasonableness of prayer, consider the benefits of a persevering attendance on this duty. Prayer is the way to a life of communion with God--a means of keeping up an acquaintance with, and of growing in the knowledge of God. It is a most excellent, yea, an essential means of nourishing the new nature, and of causing the soul to prosper. It is a good preservative from sin; as it is said, “praying will make us leave sinning,” or “sinning will make us leave praying.”
II. THE BLESSEDNESS OF PRAYER.
1. This may be seen by considering the nature of the exercise itself. Prayer usually embraces three things--praise, confession, and supplication. The ascription of praise to God is certainly a delightful exercise to every grateful heart. A grateful heart is burdened with a sense of obligation until it finds relief in rendering a tribute of thanks to Him who is the Giver of every good and every perfect gift. Confession of sin is a part of prayer full of blessedness. What a blessed hour was that to the poor prodigal when he came to himself, and said, “I will arise and go to my father.” Supplication, too, as a part of prayer, is a blessed exercise.
2. We may learn the blessedness of prayer by its effect on the character of him who offers it, and also by the blessings bestowed in answer to it. (F. Snyder.)
Draw nigh to God
I. SHOW WITH WHAT TEMPERS AND DISPOSITIONS OF MIND WE MUST DRAW NIGH TO GOD.
1. If we are truly and devoutly desirous of drawing nigh to God, one of our earliest considerations will naturally be, how unfit we are to come to Him. This will lead us to a serious examination of ourselves: to a review of our past conversation; and a comparison of it with the rule of His commandments.
2. We must draw nigh to God with firm resolutions of continuing, through His grace, in His service during our whole lives.
3. We must draw nigh with sincerity.
By sincerity I mean here a desire to know and do the whole will of God.
II. THERE ARE PROPER PLACES AND TIMES, AS WELL AS DUE DISPOSITIONS, OF DRAWING NIGH TO GOD.
1. Can we approach without ardent love?
2. It becomes us, when drawing nigh to Got, to cherish the spirit of obedience.
3. Our most intense desires should ascend above all temporal blessings.
II. THE PROMISE AFFORDED.
1. Several things are implied in this promise.
(1) It imports the manifestation of His presence. He is ever nigh, but He makes Himself known in a gracious manner only to those who seek Him.
(2) It implies infinite condescension.
2. Several benefits are imparted by the fulfilment of this promise.
(1) The mind derives from it pure and sacred pleasure. “A soul in converse with her God is heaven.”
(2) A state of security ensues. If God draw nigh to us, it is not to forsake us immediately afterwards. But if God be with us, we have nothing to fear.
III. CONSIDERATIONS ON THE PERFECTIONS OF GOD AND HIS RELATIONS TO US, AS MOTIVES AND INDUCEMENTS FOR DRAWING NIGH TO HIM.
1. In coming to God, we come to Him who is the blessed and only Potentate; the King of kings, the Lord of lords; who only hath immortality; who, by His word, framed the worlds; and, by the same word of power, upholdeth all things; in whom we live, and move, and have our being.
2. In coming to Him, we come to our Redeemer.
3. In coming to Him, we come to our Judge. (T. Townson, D. D.)
The approach of a devout mind to the Almighty
1. There are certain indispensable prerequisites.
(1) We must possess a knowledge of God.
(2) We must be convinced of our dependent state.
(3) We must embrace the plan of reconciliation by Jesus Christ.
2. There are certain dispositions which must be the accompaniments of prayer.
3. Communion begets resemblance. And can we have been often with the holy God, and not be holy? (O. A. Jeary.)
Drawing near to God
1. Touching the commandment, and the precept enjoined, is to draw near to God. That we are commanded to draw near unto God, doth it not insinuate unto us that naturally we are estranged and alienated from Him? Isaiah 59:2; Jeremiah 5:25).
2. To which short precept is set down a like promise: draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Which promise is as a reason to move us to draw near to God. He is ready to offer Himself, and is pressed at hand to all such as come near unto Him, to make them to feel the comfort of His presence. God may be said to draw near to man divers ways.
(1) By the manifestation of His majesty, as to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and others (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 17:1; Genesis 18:1; Genesis 26:1; Genesis 28:13; Genesis 32:24; Exodus 33:23; Exodus 24:1; Exodus 3:2).
(2) He draweth near also unto man by the revelation of His will. He drew nearest thus to Israel His people, to whom He gave His law and statutes, whereby He became familiar unto them.
(3) By the graces of His Spirit, which imparting unto men He draweth near thereby unto them (John 14:18; Matthew 28:20; Acts 2:1; Acts 3:3).
(4) God draweth near to men by pouring out His temporal benefits upon them, health, wealth, honour, and sending them deliverance out of their trouble (Deuteronomy 4:7; Philippians 4:5; Psalms 69:18; Psalms 119:151; Psalms 34:18; Psalms 46:1).
(5) God draweth near unto men in offering His mercy, showing His favour, assisting with His help, multiplying His livingkindness unto them.
(6) God finally draweth near unto us in a spiritual union with man, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, whereby God is united unto us and we to Him, by which means God dwelleth among us, and is made manifest in the flesh, as St. John and St. Paul speak. And therefore Christ is Emmanuel. Where, then, the apostle saith draw near to God, and He will draw near to you, he speaketh chiefly of drawing near by His grace, favour, mercy; who enlargeth His lovingkindness towards all those which with reverence and fear draw near unto Him.
3. These things thus set down, in the last place we are taught how we should draw near to God, which the apostle expresseth in these words: “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purge your hearts, you double-minded.”
(1) Men draw near to God by outward profession, though it be not always in sincerity of heart. Thus did the people of Israel in outward profession, and with their mouths, draw near to God, which as a token of hypocrisy is condemned (Isaiah 24:13; Isaiah 58:2-3).
(2) Men also draw near to God by faith in Jesus Christ, whereby they have entrance unto Him (Romans 5:1).
(3) Men draw near to God also by prayer, whereby we ascend, as it were, to heaven, and approach near to the presence of God.
(4) Neither do men draw near to God by prayer only, but also by repentance, which is a returning again to God, whom, through the sins and iniquities of our lives, we have left and forsaken.
(5) Men are said, moreover, to draw near to God when they seek to His holy ark, when they run to His Word to ask counsel.
(6) By reposing all trust and confidence in God, and clinging constantly unto Him, whereof Psalms 73:28.
(7) Of none of all these the apostle here seemeth to speak properly, but of another drawing near, which is by purity and sincereness of life, whereof chiefly in this place he speaketh, which be commendeth unto us in these words, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purge your hearts, you double-minded,” which I take not for a new precept, but with Bede and others as the manner of performing that which is now enjoined.
Let us then consider the place--
1. In calling them sinners he meaneth not them which are subject by natural infirmity to the committing of sin, as all men are so long as they rest and remain upon the face of the earth, but hereby he noteth their heinous and horrible iniquities.
2. By wavering or double-minded he noteth the shameful hypocrisy which was crept in, even into their lives, which made some show of religion, And had a pretence of godliness, but in their hearts were full of ungodliness.
3. The words bearing this signification, the matter followeth, that men in purity and sincerity of their lives draw near unto God, which consisteth in two things.
(1) In cleaning of their hands.
(2) In purging of their hearts before God. (R. Turnbull.)
Communion with God
I. THE MEANING. We are to understand it as conveying a gracious promise of conscious and sensible communion with the Father of our spirits.
II. THE MANNER.
1. The sinner must draw nigh unto God by the way of His own appointment, and that way is Christ.
2. In drawing nigh unto God a sinner must have a sense not only of his own unrighteousness, but of his own helplessness.
3. You must draw nigh to God in all His ordinances.
4. With clean hands and a pure heart.
III. THE MOTIVES.
1. The graciousness of the invitation.
2. The greatness of the benefit to be secured.
3. The certainty of the result.
4. The dreadful consequences of continued estrangement. (Alex. Hislop.)
Communion with God
If you saw two persons working together in the same shop or the same field, both blessed with the faculty of speech, and delighting to converse with all others, but never conversing with each other, what would be your conclusion? That they loved each other? By no means; but the reverse. If you saw one person using every art to please another, and to draw him into conversation, and the second person avoided his presence, and refused intercourse, what would you think? That the second person loved the first? Surely not. It is our pleasure to be in the society of those we love, and to converse with them. Prayer is speaking to God. Worship is coming into His presence, and waiting upon Him--is listening to His voice.
Approaches to God
The mother of Artaxerxes was wont to say, that they who would address themselves unto princes must use silken words: surely he that would approach unto God must consider, and look as well to his words as to his feet. He is so holy and jealous of His worship, that he expects that there should be preparation in our accesses unto Him: preparation of our persons by purity of life (Job 11:13); preparation of our services by choice of matter (John 9:1); preparation of our hearts by finding them out, stirring them up, fixing them, fetching them in, and calling together all that is within us to prevail with God. (Bp. Reynolds.)
Let your laughter be turned to mourning
Carnal joy exchanged for godly sorrow
1. It is a good exchange to put away carnal joy for godly sorrow; for then we put away a sin for a duty, brass for gold; yea, we have that in the duty which we expected in the sin, and in a more pure, full, and sweet way. God will give us that in sorrow which the world cannot find in pleasure; serenity, and contentment of mind. When the world repenteth of their joy, you will never repent of your sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10). The saddest duties are sweeter than the greatest triumphs, and the worst and most afflicted part of godliness is better than all the joys and comforts of the world. It is better to have your good things to come, than here (Luke 16:21).
2. An excellent way to moderate the excess of joy is to mix it with some weeping. The way to abate one passion is to admit the contrary: in abundance there is danger; therefore in your jollity think of some mournful objects. (T. Mouton.)
Mourning for sin
Mourn savourly and soakingly, with a deep and downright sorrow, so as a man would do in the death of his dearest friend. The Greek word, πενθήσατε, imports a funeral grief. (J. Trapp.)
Laughter turned to mourning
Turn all the streams into one channel, that may drive the will, that may grind the heart. Meal was offered of old, and not whole corn. (J. Trapp.)
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He shall lift you up
Lividly as in God’s sight
The heart is naturally at enmity with God. Hence humility is the first of Christian virtues: not that God wishes to see us debased, but that self-abasement is in accordance with the truth of our character, and is the way to exaltation. To use a very rude metaphor, just as a man cannot go up another hill till he has gone down the one on which he happens to be, so a soul cannot be exalted in God until it has thoroughly come down from self. And what is that exaltation which God accomplishes for the soul? It must be the only true and permanent exaltation. Exaltation in Satan’s kingdom must be debasement, for it is exaltation in sin, and sin depresses and debases. The exaltation, then, in this case must be an illusion. The true exaltation must be in the truth. It must be in the region where God dwells. It must be in righteousness and holiness. Such an exaltation implies satisfaction and joy. It also implies its own continuance, because of its Divine character. It is man’s finality in the kingdom of God as contrasted with his finality in the kingdom of Satan. There is one phrase especially in our text on which we desire to lay stress: “In the sight of the Lord.” Our humility is to be wrought in His sight. This implies, in the first place--
1. That the humility is not a humbling of ourselves before our fellow-men. The abjectness and servility of one man to another are not pleasing to God. If we injure our fellow-man, we are to take the attitude of penitence before him. But, this exceptional case aside, no man is to humble himself before his fellow-man.
2. The believer’s humility is therefore, in the second place, a true humility. It will not do to present to God the outward prostration for the inward repentance, the words of humility for the self-renunciation of the heart. A true humility is alive, and bears fruit in a new and holy life. A true humility sees the truth regarding itself, that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and cries out for God. The man abandons self for God. He abhors self, and finds a refuge in Jesus Christ, who is made unto him wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. This is the glorious “lifting up” which always accompanies a true humility. “What!” says an objector, “is that a true humility which is humble in order to be exalted?” Yes, it is. It would not be if the exaltation were to be in the line of the humility; that is, if the man was to be exalted in the very pride from which he humbles himself. But when the man is to be exalted by the Divine grace and the Divine Spirit, that is a true humility which foresees this exaltation, and acts in view of it. It is not a humility of despair, but of faith. It know its own worthlessness, but it knows also the Lord’s grace.
3. The believer’s humility, being in the sight of the Lord, implies a life in the sight of the Lord. He sees Him who is invisible, and his motives come from that source, so invisible to the world. The Lord’s light shines on him, and that light reveals sin in the heart. He is never found justifying himself, or flattering himself with human purity and excellence. His comfort comes from no such proud and false source, but from resting his evil heart on the pardoning and cleansing love of his Redeemer. And in that love he finds a true holiness springing up in his soul.
4. The believer’s humility implies a life of prayer. We cannot see God without praying to Him as the source of pardon and holiness, the only guardian and guide of the soul. (H. Crosby, D. D.)
Humility explained, and its necessity enforced
Humility stands opposed to pride. And as pride consists in our entertaining higher ideas of ourselves than truth will warrant, and in our presuming upon these, both in feeling and in practice, as if they were just and correct, so humility consists in our entertaining accurate notions of what we really are in relation to some one above us, and in preserving that station which a regard to our real merits requires us to occupy, as to the sentiments we cherish and the conduct we maintain, with respect to those under whom we are placed. The humility inculcated in my text is humility in reference, not to another creature more exalted than ourselves, but to God, who is immeasurably exalted above all creatures. And in this simple relation, even though we had done nothing to offend Him, humility is at once graceful and necessary; for, as we owe everything to Him, and as we depend upon Him for everything, it would be presumptuous, undutiful, to have one thought towards Him or to make one movement before Him, which proceeded on the supposition that we were not so indebted and so dependent. But the humility enjoined upon us not only respects our relation to God as His creatures, whose every faculty must be traced to Him--it also respects our relation to Him as His sinful creatures--who are thus removed at a still greater distance from Him than they naturally were, and liable to His high and holy indignation. When we exhort you to be humble, we do not exhort you to think yourselves worse or meaner than you really are. We only exhort you to form a just and precise valuation of what you really are, as compared with what you ought to be, according to the rule which has been Divinely enacted, and to maintain the conduct which such an appreciation is calculated to produce. And this exhortation is highly important in the first place, because, unless we have just notions of what we are as sinners, we can neither perceive the value, nor be prepared for the reception of any scheme that may be devised for our deliverance; and in the second place, because, among the principles of our fallen nature, pride is that which has perhaps the greatest ascendancy over our minds, and prevents us from giving heed to those considerations which go to determine what we really are, and by doing so, to fix us at our proper level. The great and vital fact with respect to you is, that you are stained with sin. There may be an endless variety in the mode and in the measure of sinning with which different individuals are chargeable. Do not suppose that you have any refuge in the paucity of your misdeeds. It is the nature of sin itself, and not its multiplicity merely, which subjects you to degradation. It is its power in the soul, and not its actual and manifold exhibition in the outward conduct, by which you are debased. But which of you can venture to say that your transgressions are few in number? Consider the extent--the strictness--the spirituality of that law to which you are subject. That is the measure of your sinfulness; and if your humility should be in proportion to your sinfulness, what limit can be set to it? Humility, however, is so mortifying to the human mind, that before it can obtain a settlement there, every attempt is made to discover reasons for believing that it is neither necessary nor appropriate. And one of the most common refuges in which the natural pride of man fortifies itself, is the self-righteous plea of what is called innocence and amiableness of character. Granting that you are as harmless as amiable, as deserving of esteem as you are thought to be, still it is all unavailing. The essential excellence of what is done by a moral agent, consists in its recognition of the existence, and in its submission to the will of Him who ruleth over all. And yet God has not been in all your thoughts, and God has not been in all your ways. And the pervading guilt which such a consideration throws into it is incalculably aggravated by your not only resting upon its merits with satisfaction, but actually supposing it sufficient to secure the favour of that very Being whom it has so dishonoured, neglected, and disowned. But we must not neglect to remind you of that affecting display of the evil of sin, and of the degradation of the sinner, as these appear in the sight of the Lord which has been made in the Cross of Christ. Could such a sacrifice as this, think you, have been demanded by “the Father of mercies,” the possessor of infinite wisdom, the God of righteousness and justice, if it had not been necessary for the purpose for which it was required--the expiation of human guilt, and the deliverance of those to whom it attached, from the degradation and the ruin into which it had brought them? Had we nothing more to tell you than that you are sinners, it would only fill you with mortification, hopelessness, and anguish. But after having told you all that we can add intelligence as pleasing as that which went before it was painful. We can speak of blessings that are to follow in its train, and that are sufficient to compensate you a thousandfold for all the distress which may have been inflicted upon your feelings by our delineations of the abject state to which you are reduced as transgressors. We would persuade you to humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, that He may, in consequence, “lift you up.” This is the arrangement established by the Author of salvation. The humility that is enjoined is connected with the privilege that is to follow it, in another way than that of either natural or acquired right. The connection is just as necessary, but it is of a different kind. When the sinner is made humble, he is merely undergoing a part of that moral process which must take place, in order that he may be raised from the death of sin to the life of holiness and peace. If you feel and cherish that humbleness of mind which just conceptions of your guilty and depraved and wretched condition are calculated to generate; and if in the midst of this self-reproach you are ready to throw your fortunes unreservedly upon the merits of that dispensation which Divine grace offers to you as your all-sufficient refuge, then there is no insuperable barrier between you and the salvation which you need. The devices of God’s wisdom become acceptable to you, the offers of His mercy become welcome to you, the hopes of His favour become precious to you, the whole manifestation of His redeeming love becomes available to you. (A. Thomson, D. D.)
Humility in God’s sight
In one of our western cities is a physician who is very skilful in doctoring the human eye. I went one day into his office. On the wall was a large painting of an eye. It seemed to look at me when I went in. I could get into no part of the room without the eye seeing me; and the last thing that I saw as I went out was that eye looking at me. 1 have often thought of that picture, and said to myself, that in some such way God’s all-seeing eye follows me all my life through. And it makes me feel humble, and leads me to be careful; humble, because I must be so small, so weak, and so wicked in God’s sight; careful, for surely I shall want God to see only that which will please Him as He shall look me through and through. (J. G. Merrill.)
Deep root, tall growth
As a tree, the more deeply it is rooted in the earth, the taller it groweth and mounteth the higher; even so a man, the more humble and lowly that he is, the more and higher doth the Lord exalt him.
Christian humility the way of an exaltation
Our humiliations work out our most elevated joys. The way that a drop of rain comes to sing in the leaf that rustles in the top of the tree all the summer long, is by going down to the roots first, and from thence ascending to the bough. (H. W.Beecher.)
Speak not evil one of another
Wilful false accusation. This may be held as the very worst form of it. It involves two evils--one of heart and one of conduct--malice and falsehood.
2. The exaggeration of faults that are real. Few things are more common than this. It springs from the same odious principle of malice.
3. The needless repetition of real faults. The principle of this is still the same.
4. The whispering of slander, with the simulation of regret. Oh, there is nothing so nauseous as this. The whisperer must first be sure that doors are all close, and no one within hearing. He is so sorry to have anything to say such as he is about to disclose: begs it may be held confidential, and go no further, while he himself carries it further, the very next person he meets.
5. There is often in the representations given a colouring--in which there is no direct falsehood, but such an artful leaving out of one circumstance, and qualifying another, and giving prominence to a third, as to amount to a thorough misrepresentation of the sentiments or the actions reported, and to convey quite a different impression of them from the reality. Just as two painters may produce two pictures, each containing the very same objects, which shall yet, by the different arrangement of these objects, in foreground and background positions, and various lights and shades, be so thoroughly different, that the sameness of the objects contained in them shall never be observed.
6. Lastly, as connecting the subject with what immediately follows, harsh uncharitable judging of the conduct of others: “He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother.” What means this judging? We may first reply, negatively, that it does not mean our simply forming an opinion of the conduct of others by the standard of God’s law. This we cannot but do.
(1) But first: we must not judge beyond the law, pronouncing sentence on our brother in matters which the Divine law does not embrace in its prohibitions or its requirements; in matters which it leaves indifferent. When we do this we are presumptuous. We go quite out of our province.
(2) Then, secondly: we must not judge without sufficient evidence. We must not pronounce our sentences on suspicion, or surmise, or vague and unexamined rumour.
(3) Further, we ought not to judge with undue severity, giving sentence with a rigour beyond the real desert of the offence; excluding from our judgment all alleviating circumstances.
(4) We must not judge motives, the secret principles of action. These are beyond the range of our cognisance. The general interdiction of “evil-speaking” and “judging” is here enforced by a special consideration--“He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law.”
How is this?
1. The law itself prohibits such evil-speaking and judging. If, then, in despite and defiance of such intimations of God’s will, we persist in “speaking evil of our brother, and judging our brother,” we are, in the very fact, “speaking evil of the law and judging the law.” We are speaking evil of it, as an over-stringent law, laying an interdict on what we see no harm in indulging. We “judge” it as being too severe and rigid in its judgments. In doing what it condemns, we condemn it.
2. When, on the other hand, we go beyond the law--judging our brother in matters which the law has left open--matters in which neither doing nor refraining to do is any violation of law; as in the case of meats and drinks and days--we then “speak evil of the law, and judge the law ‘“on a ground the very opposite of the former. We condemn it as not being sufficiently stringent; as leaving things indifferent, which ought not to be so left.
3. The remarks apply, in their full force, to the great general law of love. To that law the apostle had before adverted--“If ye fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.” Of this law the practical counterpart, in the terms of our Divine Master Himself, is--“Therefore, whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them for this is the law and the prophets.” Now it is plain that to the spirit and the letter of this law all “evil-speaking” and all such “judging” as has been described is utterly opposed. When, therefore, we indulge in such evil speaking, we condemn, as laying too stringent a restraint upon us, even this Divinely excellent and self-recommending law, in which the elements of equity and love are so admirably combined. We in effect judge and censure this law, as laying unbearably stern restrictions upon the evil propensities of our nature. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
Judging our brethren
I. WHAT IS HERE FORBIDDEN. It is speaking evil of, and judging our brethren. It is bringing charges against, and passing sentences on, our fellow-men, and especially our fellow-Christians, for they are the brethren here referred to by the apostle. It is depreciating and denouncing them--their actions, motives, designs, characters.
1. As to speaking. “Speak not evil one of another,” that is, from a spirit of enmity or envy, from the lusts warring in the members, do it not except under necessity, with some such sanction as we have referred to; in which case it is but uttering the truth, bearing a faithful testimony, not speaking evil in the ordinary and bad sense of that expression.
2. As to judging. We are repeatedly warned against such judging Matthew 7:1-2; Romans 14:3-4; 1 Corinthians 4:5). We must often pronounce on conduct, and the Scripture has laid down the rule according to which we are to decide. When it is applied, certain inferences as to character and state are legitimate, inevitable. But here we are to proceed with the greatest caution. Are the actions such as they are represented, or appear to us as being? Are we not regarding them with prejudiced minds, with jaundiced eyes, under some perverting or obscuring influence? Are we not mistaken? do we know all the circumstances? Then, though they may be wrong, are they not partially explained by the peculiar position, temperament, and temptations of the parties? Can they not be accounted for without supposing a radical want of sound principle, of Christian spirit? Then let us never forget our own feeble powers and narrow views, our tendency to limit the range of Christian faith and practice; to make a great deal of some elements, and little or nothing of others, which yet may be as prominent, or even more so, in Scriptural representation and requirement. Let us also remember that there is a region which we cannot enter, and where much may be concealed of which we can take no cognisance--a region where all the springs of action, the principles of conduct lie, that of motive. “We are not to ascend the throne, we are not to usurp the Divine prerogative of judgment.
II. WHY IT IS FORBIDDEN.
1. Because it involves a condemnation of the Divine law. The law here is the moral law as animated, unfolded, regulated by the gospel. Now, speaking evil of a brother is speaking evil of the law, for the brother may be all the while keeping it, and the conduct condemned may be exactly that which it demands, dictates. When the charges made are false--as in such cases they so often are--when the dispositions or actions found fault with are not wrong but right, when they are prompted and regulated by the very law itself, then abuse of the one is abuse of the other.
2. Because it amounts to a usurpation of the office of the only Lawgiver. One acting thus does not apply it to himself, and regulate by it his own speech and behaviour. He withdraws from its control, he goes directly and flagrantly in opposition to its authority; for it forbids and condemns this way of dealing with our brother. (John Adam.)
1. A detractor is wont to represent persons and actions under the most disadvantageous circumstances he can, setting out those which may cause them to appear odious or despicable, slipping over those which may commend or excuse them.
2. He is wont to misconstrue ambiguous words, or to misinterpret doubtful appearances of things.
3. He is wont to misname the qualities of persons or things, assigning bad appellations or epithets to good or indifferent qualities.
4. He doth imperfectly characterise persons, so as studiously to veil or faintly to disclose their virtues and good qualities, but carefully to expose, and fully to aggravate or amplify any defects or failings in them.
5. He is wont not to commend or allow anything absolutely and clearly, but always interposing some exception to which he would have it seem liable.
6. He is ready to suggest ill causes and principles, latent in the heart, of practices apparently good; ascribing what is well done to bad disposition, or bad purpose.
7. He derogateth from good actions by pretending to correct them, or to show better that might have been done in their room: it is, said he, done in some respects well, or tolerably; but it might have been done better, with as small trouble and cost: lie was overseen in choosing this way, or proceeding in this manner.
8. A detractor not regarding the general course and constant tenor of a man’s conversation, which is conspicuously and clearly good, will attack some part of it, the goodness whereof is less discernible, or more subject to contest and blame.
9. The detractor injecteth suggestions of everything anywise plausible or possible, that can serve to diminish the worth of a person, or value of an action, which he would discountenance.
I. THE CAUSES OF DETRACTION.
1. Ill nature and bad humour: as good nature and ingenuous disposition incline men to observe, like, and command what appeareth best in our neighbour; so malignity of temper and heart prompteth to espy and catch at the worst.
2. Pride, ambition, and inordinate self-love.
4. Malicious revenge and spite.
5. Sense of weakness, want of courage, or despondency of his own ability.
6. Evil conscience.
7. Bad, selfish design.
II. IT DOTH INVOLVE THESE KINDS OF IRREGULARITY AND DEPRAVITY.
1. Injustice: a detractor careth not how he dealeth with his neighbour, what wrong he doeth him.
2. Uncharitableness: it is evident that the detractor doth net love his neighbour, for charity maketh the best of everything; “charity believeth everything, hopeth everything” to the advantage of its object.
3. Impiety: he that loveth and reverenceth God will acknowledge and approve His goodness, in bestowing excellent gifts and graces to his brethren.
4. Detraction involveth degenerous baseness, meanness of spirit, and want of good manners.
5. In consequence to these things, detraction includeth folly; for every unjust, every uncharitable, every impious, every base person is, as such, a fool; none of those qualities are consistent with wisdom.
III. THE FOLLY OF it will particularly appear, together with its depravity, by THE BAD AND HURTFUL EFFECTS which it produceth, both in regard to others and to him that practiseth it.
1. The practice thereof is a great discouragement and obstruction to the common practice of goodness; for many, seeing the best men thus disparaged, and the best actions vilified, are disheartened and deterred from practising virtue, especially in a conspicuous and eminent degree.
2. Hence detraction is very noxious and baneful to all society; for all society is maintained in welfare by encouragement of honesty and industry.
3. Detraction worketh real damage and mischief to our neighbour.
4. The detractor abuseth those into whose ears he instilleth his poisonous suggestions, engaging them to partake in the injuries done to worth and virtue, causing them to entertain unjust and uncharitable conceits, to practise unseemly and unworthy behaviour toward good men.
5. The detractor produceth great inconveniences and mischiefs to himself. He raiseth against himself fierce animosity--hence are they stirred to boil with passion, and to discharge revenge on the detractor.
6. The detractor yieldeth occasion to others, and a kind of right to return the same measure on him.
7. Again the detractor, esteeming things according to moral possibility, will assuredly be defeated in his aims; his detraction in the close will avail nothing, but to bring trouble and shame on himself; for God hath a particular care over innocence and goodness, so as not to let them finally to suffer. (I. Barrow, D. D.)
The original of this evil is from Satan, and the pedigree of evil speech is to be derived from the devil, the great dragon, the old serpent. This is he that begetteth all slanderous persons; he it is who raiseth these motions in our hearts, and bloweth the fame of these affections in the minds of the wicked. This is that poison of Apis, the venomous serpent which lurketh under the lips of the reproachful slanderer. These wound and slay at hand, and far off, at home and abroad, the quick and the dead; these spare neither prince nor people, neither priest nor prelate, neither friend or foe, rich nor poor, base nor honourable, man nor woman, one nor other, these destroy whole houses and families. Now the common causes for which men speak evil of one another are chiefly these five:
1. Men slander and speak evil of--thereby to be revenged of--such as either have done them hurt, or else are thought to have done them injury. Thus men and women, not able with violence to make their part a good, use their slanderous tongues as instruments and weapons of their revenge.
2. As desire to be avenged pricketh men forward to this mischief, so also desire of gain moveth men thereunto, for we see sometimes that the bringing of others by slander into contempt may breed our commodity wherewith all we moved, give over our tongues as weapons and instruments of slander.
3. Neither for these causes only do we speak evil of our brethren, but also stirred up by envy; for the graces and benefits of God poured in plentiful manner upon our neighbours, whereat we being moved through envy, we speak evil of them as unworthy of those graces and benefits received.
4. And as for these causes men are moved to slander, so through desire that men have to please others they give themselves to slander. Now it is the nature of many men to delight in hearing others slandered, whose humour flatterers following do therefore often slander their brethren.
5. Finally, and that which properly concerneth this place, our evil speaking proceedeth of pride, and therefore as a mischief and effect of pride it is here condemned. For as the ape and raven think their own young ones fairest and best favoured, yet is there not a more deformed thing almost among beasts than the ape, neither a fouler among the birds than the young raven; so men like their own doings, be they never so bad, and condemn all others in comparison of themselves.
This mischief is manifold, and sundry ways are men said to speak evil one of another.
1. When men misreport of us, and charge us with that which is not true, then speak they evil of us.
2. Neither thus only speak men evil one of another, but also when they amplify, exaggerate, aggravate, and make the infirmities and faults of men far greater by their reports than indeed they be, to make them odious in the sight of men; as when our neighbor is something choleric and hasty to report him to be so mad, furious and headstrong, that norm can abide it.
3. Besides this, men speak evil of their brethren when they blaze abroad the secret sins and infirmities of their brethren--when they should have covered them in love--only to discredit and defame the offenders.
4. Again, men sin by speaking evil of their brethren when they deprave the good deeds and well-doings of them, when they extenuate and make less than indeed they be.
5. Not thus only, but also when men excel in learning, be singular for virtue, renowned for faith, or any such gift and grace of God’s Spirit. To diminish and extenuate these things and make them, by our envious reports, far less than indeed they are; what is this then but evil speech here condemned? Wherefore as to exaggerate and amplify the vices so to extenuate the virtues and good gifts in the saints is and to be accounted a kind of slander and evil speech also.
6. Moreover, men speak evil, though they speak that which is true, touching the sins and infirmities of their brethren, when they speak those things, not for love of the truth, but for the slandering of the person which hath offended.
7. Finally, this evil is committed when in the pride of our hearts we would have all men live according to our pleasures and wills, which, when they do not, we arrogantly condemn them, we slanderously report of them, we maliciously censure them, we rashly judge them.
And this evil he dissuadeth by four reasons.
1. From the violating God’s law, which is broken and violated of us when in the pride of our minds we condemn and speak evil of our brethren. How doth the law sustain injury in thus injuring of our brethren! How is it violated, how is it evil spoken of and condemned when our brethren are evil spoken of and condemned by us! God’s law teacheth us not to condemn nor to speak evil of the brethren. When, notwithstanding this law, we do and will speak evil and condemn our brethren then we speak evil of the law and condemn it in effect. Because we will not be bridled thereby. Now, whoso speaketh evil of and condemneth any law, speaketh evil of and condemneth him whose law it is; proud and wicked men then speaking evil of the law of God, and condemning it, speak thereby evil of God and condemn Him by whose finger this law was written. And thus blasphemously speak we evil of God and presumptuously also prefer we our wits and wills before God’s, and as wiser than God, we in all impiety condemn Him of folly. And to find fault with the wisdom of God, and to speak evil of His eternal Spirit and the unsearchable counsels of His heart, to take upon us to control and correct His laws, statutes and ordinances, what intolerable impiety, what desperate iniquity, what singular ungodliness were it!
2. A second reason why we should not speak evil of, or condemn the brethren, is drawn from the duty of the saints, it is the duty of God’s children to do the law, not to judge or condemn it. We may not speak evil of the brethren, because in so doing we are not doers of the law which duty requireth, but judges, which becometh not the saints.
3. A third reason why men may not proudly condemn and arrogantly judge their brethren is drawn from the usurping of the office of God and of Christ.
4. The fourth reason why we should not speak evil, or rashly condemn our brethren, is from the frailty of our own common state and condition. There is no better bridle to the heady and hasty judging of other men than to be plucked back by the reins and bit of our own frailty, and view of our own infirmities, which thing greatly abateth our pride, assuageth our hatred, cooleth our courage, and tempereth the hastiness of our judgments against our brethren. When the peacock beholdeth his tail, beset with such varieties of beautiful colours, then he swelleth in pride, contemning and condemning all other birds in comparison of himself; but when he looseth upon his black feet and vieweth the deformity thereof, his comb is something cut and his courage abated. So when we lift up our eyes to the graces and gifts which God bestowed upon us, then we wax proud and insolent; but when we cast our eyes down upon the manifold infirmities whereunto we are subject, then is our pride abated and our insolency of spirit diminished, and we made more moderate and temperate in judging of our Christian brethren. (R. Turnbull.)
I. Is WHAT WAYS THIS EVIL MAY BE COMMITTED.
II. SOME OF THE DETESTABLE QUALITIES AND BAD CONSEQUENCES WHICH ATTEND THIS PRACTICE.
1. It spends much precious time in a very unprofitable and sinful manner.
2. It is a practice which leads people to form false judgments of one another, and is apt to expose those who do so to danger or contempt.
3. This practice necessarily causes the worthy or the innocent to suffer.
4. It is a practice which, in all its parts, tends to sow enmity among men.
5. It is a practice which causes much uneasiness to those who engage in it.
6. It is often the cause of the greatest cruelty and injustice to innocent persons.
7. This practice is one of the most mean and disgraceful possible. (The Christian Magazine.)
I. AS TO ITS ORIGIN. Calumny, like every other evil that embitters the happiness or tarnishes the present good name of mankind, may finally be traced to the original corruption of human nature and to the want of that abiding principle of true religion which alone can ensure the mastery over every evil propensity and fit all, individually, to comport themselves aright in the ever-varying and multifarious relations of social life. Of the secondary and more immediate causes, however, of this baneful and prevailing vice, idleness, envy, revenge, malice, and spiritual pride may perhaps, without much uncharitableness in the supposition, be naturally assigned as the chief and most common sources from whence it flows. It has often been said that when the devil finds a man idle he generally sets him to work; for as the mired of man is essentially active, and cannot long bear the languor and irksomeness of mere idleness, so when he is not habitually employed in the acquisition of learning and knowledge, the pursuits of science, the cultivation of the fine arts, or engaged in one or other of the more common yet not less useful occupations of humble life, he will most likely soon become busied in pursuits of an opposite kind! And hence mere idleness is not only a useless, but even a highly dangerous state of existence--an inlet to every evil which can either disgrace or embitter the life of man; and to none does it afford a more ready and direct access than to that of calumny. But to a habit of idleness may be mentioned also envy as not an unfrequent cause of evil speaking among mankind. Fallen perhaps, through habits of idleness and dissipation, from that rank in society which greater prudence and exertion might have enabled him to maintain, or, finding himself outstripped in the journey of life by those who were but his equals or even inferiors in the outset, and whom, but for his own misguided conduct, he might still have equalled or surpassed, the man in whose bosom is fanned the spark of envy sickens at the sight of that prosperity which he cannot reach vilifies as crooked and suspicious that line of conduct by which it has been obtained; affects to undervalue that happiness which worldly success seems to confer; ascribes to penuriousness of disposition or to an unaccountable flow of good luck whatever a more amiable or generous mind would naturally be disposed to set down to the credit of commendable economy united to a system of virtuous and undeviating industry. But, farther, revenge also not unfrequently prompts men to the indulgence of evil speaking. Few modes of attack seem to unite so completely safety to the assailant and injury to the person assailed as that which is presented through the medium of calumny; and hence it is so frequently adopted by the cold-blooded, cowardly, malicious, and revengeful! No matter how innocent and unoffending, how distinguished and exemplary, may be the object of their hatred, to have incurred their displeasure, however unwittingly, is cause sufficient for Jetting loose all the envenomed shafts of slander! But yet farther. There are some who appear to indulge in a habit of evil speaking for whose conduct no possible reason can be assigned but the innate malice of their hearts or the secret desire of mischief. Such are those who, without any personal provocation or the least shadow of excuse, wantonly attack without discrimination the characters of all around them. Human only in appearance, they are in heart and dispositions but demons in disguise. But yet farther again. The only remaining topic, to which we here claim your attention, as one of the many sources from which a habit of evil speaking may sometimes proceed, is that of spiritual pride. Nothing has a stronger tendency to render a man arrogant and contemptuous in his conduct towards others than a false idea of his own superior attainments in knowledge and in religion; while, at the same time, not a surer evidence can well be given of the presence of ignorance and of the want of the true spirit of the gospel.
II. And hence we would remind you that calumny or evil speaking Is A MEAN AND COWARDLY VICE. If you would blush to have yoUr names associated with the thief and the robber, can you for a moment think it less mean or less criminal to assassinate the character of your neighbour, which to every good man is dearer than life? To filch from him that which constitutes his most valued possession, which, to many, is all they have whereon to depend for the support of themselves and family, and to all is absolutely necessary to the true enjoyment of the good things of this life with which Providence may have blessed their condition? But we would have you to recollect, farther, that evil speaking is not only mean and cowardly in the extreme, but is also characterised by the blackest injustice. Is it justice, though he may in some instances have failed in duty towards us, to represent him as deficient in all, to go about privily slandering him in his absence, fabricating stories to his hurt, without once, perhaps, having acquainted him with the cause of our displeasure; to condemn him, in short, without a hearing in his defence, and for that, too, of which perhaps the cause lies chiefly with ourselves?
III. Let us now ADDUCE A FEW CONSIDERATIONS WHICH NATURALLY, AS WELL AS POWERFULLY, OUGHT TO LEAD ALL MEN TO GUARD AGAINST OR TO FORSAKE A HABIT SO ODIOUS AND UNCHRISTIAN. And these are chiefly suggested to us by the concluding word of our text, namely, that we are “brethren.”
1. We are brethren by creation. To indulge, therefore, in calumny and malignant sarcasm against our fellow creatures is a gross and unnatural perversion of all those exalted faculties by which our race has been distinguished--a habit which at once degrades us beneath the rank of the lower animals, and insults the wisdom and majesty of God the Creator, by thus vilifying the noblest of His works.
2. We are brethren in the original corruption of our nature.
3. We are brethren by one common faith in Christ Jesus. Therefore, if we are really Christians, one temper, one spirit of peace, must pervade the whole. Seeing also that we look for the coming of Christ and the glorious fulfilment of His promises, “let us therefore fear lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of us should seem to come short of it” through lack of brotherly love. (Chas. Hope.)
On evil speaking
I. THE EXTENT OF THIS PRECEPT.
1. This precept does not extend so far as to hinder us from telling another man his faults with a view to his amendment.
2. It is no crime to descant upon the faults of our neighbour which are public and notorious; for where can be the harm for any man to talk of what every one knows?
3. Though nothing can justify ill-grounded uncharitable opinions, yet in cases where we have sufficient information a wide difference is to be made between what we say in a mixed company and what we disclose to a particular friend, who is virtually under a covenant with us not to betray our private conversation.
4. Nor do we act contrary to this precept when we are called upon by lawful authority to speak what we know against a criminal.
5. We are so far from acting against the precept of my text, that it is an act of charity as well as justice to strip the wolf of his sheep’s clothing, which he has put on to make a prey of the innocent and unsuspecting.
6. Though it is our duty not to speak ill of any man, without some of the above reasons, yet it does not follow that we ought to speak well of everybody promiscuously and in general, because we ought to make a distinction where there is a difference.
II. THE CAUSES OF EVIL SPEAKING,
1. An affectation of wit.
2. Hastiness or precipitancy in judging before we know the whole of the case.
5. Little personal animosities.
6. An ill life in general. Those who know a great deal of ill of themselves are apt to suspect ill of everybody else.
III. THE UNREASONABLENESS OF EVIL SPEAKING, (J. Seed, M. A.)
The love of censuring others
“Speak not against one another, brethren.” The context shows what kind of adverse speaking is meant. It is not so much abusive or calumnious language that is condemned as the love of finding fault. The censorious temper is utterly unchristian. It means that we have been paying aa amount of attention to the conduct of others which would have been better bestowed upon our own. It means also that we have been paying this attention, not in order to help, but in order to criticise, and criticise unfavourably. Bat over and above all this, censoriousness is an invasion of the Divine prerogatives. “He that speaketh against a brother, or judgeth a brother, speaketh against the law and judgeth the law.” St. James is probably not referring to Christ’s command in the Sermon on the Mount--“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged” (Matthew 7:1-2). It is a law of far wider scope that is in his mind, the same as that of which he has already spoken, “the perfect law, the law of liberty” (James 1:25); “the royal law according to the Scriptures, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (James 2:8). No one who knows this law, and has at all grasped its meaning and scope, can suppose that observance of it is compatible with habitual criticism of the conduct of others and frequent utterance of unfavourable judgments respecting them. No man, however willing he may be to have his conduct laid open to criticism, is fond of being constantly subjected to it. Still less can any one be fond of being made the object of slighting and condemnatory remarks. Every man’s personal experience has taught him that; and if he loves his neighbour as himself, he will take care to inflict on him as little pain of this kind as possible. In judging and condemning his brother he is judging and condemning the law; and he who condemns a law assumes that he is in possession of some higher principle by which he tests it and finds it wanting. What is the higher principle by which the censorious person justifies his contempt for the law of love? He has nothing to show us but his own arrogance and self-confidence. This proneness to judge and condemn others is further proof of that want of humility about which so much was said in the previous section. Pride, the most subtle of sins, has very many forms, and one of them is the love of finding fault; that is, the love of assuming an attitude of superiority, not only towards other persons, but towards the law of charity and Him who is the Author of it. Censoriousness brings yet another evil in its train. Indulgence in the habit of prying into the acts and motives of others leaves us little time and less liking for searching carefully into our own acts and motives. The two things act and react upon one another by a natural law. He who constantly expresses his detestation of evil by denouncing the evil doings of his brethren is not the man most likely to express his detestation of it by the holiness of his own life; and the man whose whole life is a protest against sin is not the man most given to protesting against sinners. “One only is Lawgiver and Judge, even He who is able to save and to destroy.” There is one, and only one, Source of all law and authority, and that Source is God Himself. And this sole Fount of authority, this one only Lawgiver and Judge, has no need of assessors. While He delegates some portions of His power to human representatives, He requires no man, He allows no man, to share His judgment-seat or to cancel or modify His laws. It is one of those cases in which the possession of power is proof of the possession of right. “He who is able to save and to destroy,” who has the power to execute sentences respecting the weal and woe of immortal souls, has the right to pronounce such sentences, Man has no right to frame and utter such judgments, because he has no power to put them into execution; and the practice of uttering them is a perpetual usurpation of Divine prerogatives. Is not the sin of a censorious temper in a very real sense diabolical? It is Satan’s special delight to be “the accuser of the brethren” Revelation 12:10). It is of the essence of censoriousness that its activity is displayed with a sinister motive. “But who art thou, that judgest thy neighbour?” St. James concludes this brief section against the sin of censoriousness by a telling argumentum ad hominem. Granted that there are grave evils in some of the brethren among whom and with whom you live, granted that it is quite necessary that these evils should be noticed and condemned, are you precisely the persons that are best qualified to do it? Putting aside the question of authority, what are your personal qualifications for the office of a censor and a judge? Is there that blamelessness of life, that gravity of behaviour, that purity of motive, that severe control of tongue, that freedom from contamination from the world, that overflowing charity which marks the man of pure religion? To such a man finding fault with his brethren is real pain; and therefore to be fond of finding fault is strong evidence that these necessary qualities are not possessed. Least of all is such an one fond of disclosing to others the sins which he has discovered in an erring brother. Indeed, there is scarcely a better way of detecting our own secret; faults than that of noticing what blemishes we are most prone to suspect and denounce in the lives of our neighbours. It is often our own personal acquaintance with iniquity that makes us suppose that others must be like ourselves. (A. Plummer, D. D.)
It is not good to speak evil of all whom we know bad; it is worse to judge evil of any who may prove good. To speak ill upon knowledge shows a want of charity; to speak ill upon suspicion shows a want of honesty. I will not speak so bad as I know of many; I will not speak worse than I know of any. To know evil by others, and not speak it, is sometimes discretion; to speak evil by others and not know it, is always dishonesty. He may be evil himself who speaks good of others upon knowledge, but he can never be good himself who speaks evil of others upon suspicion. (A. Warwick.)
Uncharitable speech in the light of death
One day the conversation at dinner, in a family well known to the writer, turned upon a lady who was so unfortunate as to have incurred the dislike of certain members of the household because of some little peculiarities. After several had expressed their views in no gentle terms, the married sister added, “I can’t endure her; and I believe I will not return her call if she comes here again.” Her husband, who had hitherto remained silent, replied, “She will not trouble you again, my dear, as she died an hour ago.” “You do not mean it? Surely you are only teasing us for our uncharitableness?” “She is really dead. I learned it on my way home to dinner.” Overwhelmed with shame, the little group realised for the first time the solemnity of such sinful conversation. Let us take warning, and speak of those about us as we shall wish we had done when they are taken from us. (Advocate and Guardian.)
Habit of censure
It is reported of vultures that they will fly over a garden of sweet flowers and not so much as eye them; but they will seize upon a stinking carrion at the first sight. Thus many there are that will take no notice of the commendable parts and good qualities of others; but, if the least imperfection appear, there they will fasten. (J. Spencer.)
Look for good in others
There is an old legend that our Lord was once walking through a market-place, when He saw a crowd of people gathered together, looking at something on the ground, and He drew near to see what it was. It was a dead dog with a halter round its neck, by which it seemed to have been dragged through the mire, and it certainly was a most disagreeable sight. Everybody around it had something to say against it. “How horrible it looks,” said one, “with its ears all draggled and torn l” “How soon will it be taken away out of our sight?” said another. “No doubt it has been hanged for thieving,” said a third. And Jesus heard them, and looking down compassionately on the dead creature, He said, “Pearls cannot equal the whiteness of its teeth.” Then the people turned towards Him with amazement, and said among themselves, “This must be Jesus of Nazareth, for only He could find something to approve even in a dead dog.” This is a beautiful old legend, and the lesson it teaches us is that there is always something good to be found in everybody if only we would take the trouble to look for it.
Evil speaking rebuked
“Is she a Christian?” asked a celebrated missionary in the East of one of the converts who was speaking unkindly of a third party. “Yes, I think she is,” was the reply. “Well, then, since Jesus loves her in spite of all her faults, why is it that you can’t?”
There is one Lawgiver
The Supreme Lawgiver
1. Absolute supremacy becometh none but him that hath absolute power.
2. God hath an absolute and supreme power on man, and can dispose of them according to His will and pleasure; and therefore we must--
(1) Keep close to His laws with more fear and trembling. There is no escaping this Judge (1 Corinthians 10:22). Eternal life and eternal death are in His disposal (Matthew 10:28).
(2) Observe them with more encouragement; live according to Christ’s laws, and He is able to protect you (Psalms 68:20). He can save His people, and He hath many ways to bring His enemies to ruin. Your Friend is the most dreadful Enemy; He “hath the keys of death and hell” Revelation 1:18).
(3) Be the more humbled in case of breach of His laws. Wool overcometh the strokes of iron by yielding to them. There is no way left but submission and humble addresses. He may be overcome by faith, but not by power Isaiah 27:5). (T. Manton.)
I. HIS PRE-EMINENCE.
1. His authority is underived. All other legislators act on trust; they are responsible to some one, He to none.
2. His laws are constitutional; they are written in the very nature of the subject. Hence--
(1) They are unalterable.
(2) They involve their own sanction.
(3) They are the ultimate standards of conduct.
II. His PREROGATIVE. He is able to save and to destroy. There are three classes of moral beings in the universe.
1. Those that He can destroy, but never will--unfallen angels and sainted men.
2. Those that He could save, but never will--the population of the nether world.
3. Those that He can either save or destroy--men on earth. If a human sovereign possess the prerogative to save a condemned criminal, and he nevertheless perish, it must be for one of three reasons-either that he is indisposed to use it, or that it is not expedient for him to use it, or that the criminal spurns it. Neither of the first two will apply to God. The Bible declares His willingness, and the Atonement makes it expedient. (D. Thomas.)
Conscience subject to God alone
To offer to domineer over the conscience is to assault the citadel of heaven. (Emperor Maximilian.)
Rights of conscience
Nobly did Napoleon Bonaparte, in the year 1804, maintain the rights of conscience, in his reply to M. Martin, President of the Consistory of Geneva, in words worthy to be held in everlasting remembrance--“I wish it to be understood that my intention and my firm determination are to maintain liberty of worship. The empire of the law ends where the empire of the conscience begins. Neither the law nor the prince must infringe upon this empire.” (H. C. Fish, D. D.)
Who art thou that judgest another?--
Of judging our neighbour
I. First, let us inquire WITH WHAT LIMITATIONS WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND THIS PROHIBITION IN MY TEXT, OR WHAT THAT JUDGING IS WHICH IS HERE FORBIDDEN. For it is plain that it cannot be understood in an absolute sense, as if all judging were forbidden; but only in certain eases, and with some restrictions. As, first, we must not so understand these words as if they interfered with the magistrate’s office, or forbade those in authority to judge and punish crimes. This is so far from being forbidden, that it is everywhere allowed, approved, and authorised in Holy Scripture. The judging here forbidden can be only meant of that liberty which private Christians take to judge and censure the conduct of one another. And this appears plain from the verse before my text, where it is joined with the vice of evil-speaking. But still it may be asked, Is all judging or censuring, then, forbidden to Christians? Or how far may we be allowed to judge and speak concerning the faults of other people? To this I answer, briefly, as far as truth and charity will give us leave, and no farther. Where a man’s faults, indeed, are public and notorious, there every man may be allowed to pass a judgment on them, nay, and to express his detestation of the thing, if it be really detestable, as long as he bears no malice or hatred to the person. We are not allowed to call evil good, or good evil, but must give everything its proper name; and public infamy or shame is but the just reward of bold and open wickedness. But then it is not every idle rumour, every ignorant or malicious whisper, that will bear a man out in presently censuring and condemning of his neighbour; much less in spreading ill reports concerning him, or saying what may tend to lessen or defame him. A man’s general character should always be considered, in the first place, before we lightly entertain an ill opinion of him; and, moreover, the fact well proved, before we take upon us to pronounce, or even to think him guilty. But, where a man’s faults are evident to all the world, there every man may be allowed to express his dislike; and happy were it if the public censure might bring him to himself at last, and reclaim him from his evil courses. If this should happen, indeed, and a person who has been openly bad should nevertheless repent sincerely and become a new man, here the law of charity will oblige us to regard him in a different light--to forget his former faults, if possible, or at least never to mention them by way of reproach. But, further yet, I must observe, that the words of the apostle are not to be understood in that strict sense as if they forbad us to speak of the faults of others to themselves, by way of charitable admonition or reproof. For that observation of the wise man will be found, in most cases, to hold good--that better is open rebuke than secret (or silent) love (Proverbs 27:5).
II. THE JUDGING HERE FORBIDDEN BY THE APOSTLE IS ALL FALSE, AND RASH, AND NEEDLESS, AND UNCHARITABLE, JUDGING OR CENSURING THE CHARACTERS AND CONDUCT OF OTHER PEOPLE.
1. You must beware that your censures be not false or groundless: for whenever this happens, you are guilty of injustice to your neighbour, though you should only harbour such an ill opinion of him in your own thoughts; but much more if you give vent to it, and help to propagate the slander amongst others.
2. But beware of being rash and precipitate in judging: for there are so many things that are apt to deceive and mislead us, that, if we proceed hastily in this matter, it is ten to one but we make a wrong and a mistaken judgment.
3. As you are to avoid all rash judgments, so must you likewise all needless ones--all that censuring and judging our brother which there is no occasion for.
4. You must beware of all uncharitable judgments and censures of others: you must be ready to put the best constructions that you can upon the words and actions of other people--avoiding that too common, but ill-natured practice of turning things to the worst sense, and suspecting ill of everything that has but the least doubtful aspect. There is another thing which men ought carefully to avoid in their judgments and censures of other people, not to intrench upon the prerogative of God by pretending to discern men’s hearts, or the secret springs upon which they act, and which can be known only to God and their own consciences, any further than as their words and actions plainly speak them.
III. THE REASONS HERE USED BY THE APOSTLE TO DISSUADE US FROM THIS SIN OF RASH JUDGING AND CENSURING.
1. We should be cautious how we judge our brethren, because we must all of us give account of ourselves to God, that great Lawgiver, who is alone able to save and to destroy. The great Judge of heaven and earth, who sees men’s actions in their very birth, and is perfectly acquainted with even the smallest circumstance of them, yet does not ordinarily judge men so as to reward or punish them in this life, but has reserved the great decision to the future general judgment; and shall we, then, weak and ignorant and shortsighted creatures, presume to prevent the great and infallible Judge, and hastily to pronounce upon the characters and conduct of men, before the time which God Himself hath fixed to bring these hidden things to light? Again, since we must all of us give account to God, the great Lawgiver and Judge, we should consider that our proper business is to look well into ourselves, and to examine diligently our own conduct, that so we may be able to stand the trial of that great day. This is our great concern, and, if we do this with diligence and impartiality, we shall neither have the heart nor leisure to inquire much into the bad conduct and failings of other people. I shall observe one thing more, viz.,--That, as the consideration of a future judgment should make us cautious how we judge and censure others, so will it afford just ground of comfort and support to those who labour under the weight of an undeserved reproach.
2. The other argument is this--that we are, for the most part, very unfit and improper judges of the characters and conduct of one another: Who art thou that judgest another? Whereby the apostle would intimate to us, either that we have no authority so to do, or else that we are very unfit and unqualified for the office. And, indeed, it may be justly questioned by what authority we set ourselves up as judges of the conduct of other people. The office of a judge is what no man takes upon himself without a commission from his superiors, or else by a reference from the parties themselves who submit to be judged by him; and, if we do it without one or other of these to war, ant us, we intrude into an office to which we have no right. And, if our authority to judge our brother may be justly questioned, it is certain that our ability for it, in many cases, is as justly questionable; and, perhaps, there is scarcely anything wherein we are more liable to error and mistake. If we judge from the reports of others, how often is it that prejudice, malice, or envy, or ill-nature, or sometimes, perhaps, a mere mistake and oversight, has had the greatest share in kindling these reports! And if we judge from these, therefore, we are in great danger of being deceived and misled. If we set aside the reports of others, and trust to our own sagacity in judging; yet here too we shall be liable to great mistakes, unless we proceed with care and circumspection. And that on account of the difficulty that there is to see into the true characters of men and things; and next, with respect to ourselves, and the many prejudices we labour under, which are apt to bias and corrupt our judgment. A friendship for one man shall make us blind to all his faults; and some little difference with another shall give us a disgust, perhaps, even of his virtues. In general, men are more inclined to judge by humour and affection than by any fixed and stated rules. And hence it is that the most trifling things are sometimes apt to possess them with an ill opinion of a person. The very make of a man’s face, that has had something in it disagreeable to the humour of another, has oftentimes possessed him with such a prejudice against him, at first sight, as nothing had been able to remove, till a better acquaintance has at length convinced him of his folly, that he was too rash and precipitate in his judgment. And so, likewise, a mere absurdity of behaviour, or some little weakness and indiscretion, shall, by hasty and severe judges, be interpreted as something highly criminal, and oftentimes throw a blot upon a character which it no way deserved. So easy is it for us to be mistaken in our judgment and opinions of other people. But the greatest prejudice of all, and that which will infallibly corrupt men’s judgments in this as well as other cases, is that of a depraved and wicked heart. For he that is a slave to any vice himself is a very improper person to judge of the characters and conduct of other men. The reason is this, because he will be apt to judge of others by what he finds and feels within himself. And as his own inclination to his favourite vice is strong, he will suspect the same of all men, and so proceed to censure and condemn without reserve. (Chas. Peters, M. A.)
Be merciful in your judgment of others
One of the legends of Ballycastle preserves a touching story. It is of a holy nun whose frail sister had repented of her evil ways and sought sanctuary at the convent. It was winter. The shelter she claimed was granted; but the holy sister refused to remain under the same roof with the repentant sinner. She left the threshold, and proceeded to pray in the open air; but, looking towards the convent, she was startled by perceiving a brilliant light proceeding from one of the cells, where she knew that neither taper nor fire could be burning. She went back to her sister’s room--for it was there the light was shining--just in time to receive her last sigh of repentance. The light had vanished, but the recluse interpreted it as a sign from heaven that the offender had been pardoned, and learned thenceforward to be more merciful in judging and more Christlike in forgiving.
To-day or to-morrow we will go
Sinful confidence regarding the future
THE SPIRIT WHICH IS HERE CONDEMNED.
1. The confident expectation of prolonged existence. Here was a purpose formed in which there was no recognition whatever of the uncertainty of life or of dependence on God, in which the future was calculated on with unhesitating confidence. Thus do multitudes presume on the permanence of that which the next moment may be gone like the vapour which the morning sun dissipates or the passing breeze sweeps away without leaving a trace of it behind.
2. The confident expectation of worldly success. There is no mention of anything but trade and consequent profit. There is not a word of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, of working out their own salvation, of laying up treasures in heaven. All is material, secular, temporal.
II. THE GROUNDS ON WHICH THIS SPIRIT IS CONDEMNED.
1. The notorious uncertainty of human life. While we can review the past, we cannot foresee the future. By a sudden stroke of fortune the poor man may be raised to affluence, or by one of a contrary kind the rich man may be reduced to beggary. Before we are aware friends may be alienated, plans defeated, prospects blighted. Dangers may gather round us, disgrace may settle down on us, and a bright day of prosperity be turned into a dark, dismal night of adversity. The dearest objects may be snatched away, and we may be left solitary and alone, our former joy gone, and a bitter sorrow come in its place. Especially is this the case with that life on the retaining of which all our earthly possessions and enjoyments depend.
2. The dependence on the Divine will which befits the creature. We are not forbidden to look forward to the future, and provide for our prospective wants, personal and domestic. Within certain limits this is right, necessary. As little are we forbidden to be diligent in business and to expect profit as the result. Why, this matter is of express and urgent requirement. But we are to do all recognising the Divine will, cherishing a sense of dependence on God for life and health, for ability to work and success in working.
3. The sinfulness of all such proud confidence as they had been exhibiting--“But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.” They were jubilant where they had reason to be afraid. By their “boastings” we are to understand the manifold workings of that self-sufficient and vainglorious spirit by which they were animated. They presumptuously calculated on life, health, and prosperity. They entertained high expectations and bright prospects, and by these they were elated. Hence they expressed themselves in language of the kind which James is here condemning. Having thus remonstrated with them regarding the spirit which came out in the language he represents them as using, he concludes with the general inference in verse 17--“Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” The case in hand fell under this principle: it was one of the exemplifications of the maxim. When people are fully aware of their duty, and yet fail to do it, either by positive transgression or by omission or neglect, they are chargeable with sin which, in these circumstances, becomes peculiarly heinous. Ignorance does not excuse disobedience, but knowledge greatly aggravates its guilt. (John Adam.)
I. THEY PRACTICALLY MAKE SELF THE END OF THEIR LIFE. It is this, in the resolution of worldly men, that is here condemned.
1. Not their industry. That is right. The rust that settles on inactivity--such, for instance, as the weakness of an unused limb or intellect or affection--is God’s brand on indolence.
2. Again, the condemnation here is not upon their working for profit. It is well to accumulate what will be for our own or others’ comfort. To amass wealth is a better as well as a wiser thing than to squander and to lose.
3. Nor is working for profit with forethought condemned. It is well to “go into the city,” for there the stagnant pulses of our whole life are often quickened. It is well in the city to put forth the earnest industry of persevering men. A Christianised commerce may become one of the truest educators of the individual and efficient harmonisers of the race. But the reproach is when this working for profit with forethought is all for self.
When the streets of the city are busily trod and all the details of commerce earnestly carried out merely for gain man wrongs his fellows, degrades himself, and dishonours God.
II. THEY PRACTICALLY DISREGARD THE TRANSITORINESS OF THEIR LIFE. The swiftness with which our life passes defies adequate description. It is well when we regard it as Job did. If he looked on the road he trod he recognised as a symbol of his life, not the slow caravan richly laden with merchandise, but the rapid courier, who urged on the swift dromedary as he promptly carried the royal commands, scarcely deigning to look at the traveller he passed, who might sadly muse, “My days are swifter than a post.” And as he gazed on the sea “the swift ships”--canoes of reed, and not the ponderously built and heavily freighted merchantmen--reminded him of his life. In the landscape he read types of himself, not in the rock, nor even in the tree, but in the frail grass and the fragile flower; and in the heavens, not in the enduring moon, nor even in the trembling stars, but in the vanishing cloud and the flimsy mist. Seeing the fact just as Job had thus seen it, James asks, “What is your life? it is even a vapour.” A vapour is an exhalation from the earth. We are dust, and at death our bodies only return to what they were. A vapour passeth away utterly. Though we can find the powder of the crushed rock, and even the faded leaf of the dying tree, there is no trace left of the mist that is exhaled by the sun or borne away by the breeze. So the places that now know us shall know us no more for ever.
III. THEY PRACTICALLY IGNORE THE GOD OF THEIR LIFE. Not that the men of the world of the first century, any more than the men of the world of the nineteenth, could profess atheism. But whatever may be the language of the creed, the more convincing language of his conduct convicts every worldly man of this heresy. Such heresy ignores the teaching of our text that--
1. The God of life has a will. “If the Lord will.” The Supreme Being has both desire and determination; and these two constitute will. But beyond this the will of God is distinguished by intelligence, force, benevolence. A God without a will would be a God without a sceptre, without a throne, without any moral attributes. Yet such is the God conceived of by multitudes.
2. God’s will relates to individual men. “Ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we,” &c. Whenever men conceive their plans and toils and life too insignificant for the control of the Divine will, they limit the Holy One.
3. God’s will refers both to the life and activity of every man. He has a will about your life, though the plans of that will are unknowable by you. It can as easily withdraw your life as it can wither the blade of grass or scatter the morning mist. So your life hangs upon that will. And if you live, your activities depend on that will. The path of enterprise may be blocked up by a hundred unforeseen obstacles, or your power to tread it may, through a weakened body or enfeebled mind, be withdrawn.
IV. THEY PRACTICALLY PRIDE THEMSELVES ON THE VERY EVILS OF THEIR LIFE. “Now ye rejoice in your boasting; all such rejoicing is evil.” “We have glanced at the boastful speeches that indicate a boastful spirit. Do you inquire, What boastfulness, what vaingloriousness? The boastfulness of making self the end and aim of all; of disregarding the transitoriness of life; of ignoring the great God. What worse boastfulness could there be? It is glorying in shame. (U. R. Thomas.)
Religion and business
The trade in England is one of the wonders of the time. To others may be left the boast that they are the great military powers of the world. Our distinction is that we stand the first in the ranks of commerce. In whatever way we look at it, the vastness of the trade which England is doing on every sea, with every nation, in almost every department, must impress the mind. There is not an article so minute as to be unworthy of her notice, not a land so inhospitable that it does not furnish some material for her vast transactions, not a sea so distant that it is not visited by her fleet, not a people so barbarous that she is not willing, and for the most part able, to carry on an intercourse with them. Look at it from another side. Visit some of those great hives of industry, where the discoveries of science are made subservient to its purposes. Everywhere there is eagerness, stir, activity. As in the service of idolatry of old, so here in a better work are all ages and classes employed, to an extent sometimes, indeed, that taxes far too heavily the brain of the thinker and the strength of the labourer. What a multitude of anxieties and calculations, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, centre here! What an amount of interest is awakened, what a power of thought is engaged, what a variety of different forces are employed to the production of the result I It employs all variety of talents, it enlists an infinite number of agencies, it braves all kinds of dangers, it undertakes the most Herculean toils. It plants its settlement at every centre to which people are likely to be attracted; it penetrates forests or pierces mountains which may obstruct its advance; it goes far and wide in order to gather up the peculiar treasures of all countries, and turn them to profitable account. Now, after taking this rapid and cursory review, the first question which should suggest itself to every man who believes in the Divinity of our religion, and the power which it ought to exert as a guide, and a sanctifier of humanity, is, as to the way in which the Church is to regard this work, occupying so much time, employing so much energy, absorbing necessarily so much interest and desire.
I. RELIGION IS TO BE A GOVERNING POWER IN BUSINESS LIFE. God is to be owned and obeyed in all its relations, all its feelings, and all its labours. The law of truth and righteousness is to be absolute and unchangeable. It may sometimes impose upon him duties and sacrifices which are felt to be very hard. It may require him to renounce advantages which seem to be within his grasp, and which in truth needs only a little straining of conscience on his part for him to secure. It will lead him to adopt principles of conduct which friends and companions may vote visionary and impracticable. But with him it ought never to be a question whether he will obey or not. He is under a rule which he has willingly accepted; not because society approves it, or because it may seem on the whole to be most conducive to his personal interests, but because it is the law of Christ. He is not a Christian although a merchant, nor is he a Christian and a merchant, but he is a Christian merchant; that is the law of Christ rules him in his business as much as in his actions in the Church.
II. RELIGION IS TO BE A PURIFYING POWER. It would be a simple tiling to indulge in declamation against the evils of trade, and the corrupting influence which, even when conducted in the best way, and on the most Christian principles it exerts upon the character. You may be true, righteous, honourable, but the spirit of the world may have such dominion over you that all spiritual desire may be extinguished, and spiritual power and sympathy lost. Under the influence of this passion the purer sentiments of heaven will droop and die, all generous feeling will be resisted until at last it is crushed out altogether, the heart will grow harder and harder, and happy will it be if in some unguarded hour temptation does not betray into grosser evil. But how is even this lowering of tone to be escaped and the soul freed from the dominion of selfishness? It is here, as everywhere else, where the love of the world is, the love of the Father cannot be, and until that heavenly love be shed abroad in the heart, the other cannot be conquered. It is the new and holier affection which must expel the old.
III. RELIGION SHOULD BE A CONSECRATING POWER. Our business must be regarded as work done for God, so that God may be glorified in it and serve by its fruits, and then will it become itself truly Divine. Uprightness, honour, generosity, and unselfishness will redeem it from the faults which provoke so much censure, and stamp upon it a character which all will soon learn to reverence. (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
Presumptuous language respecting futurity
I. THE FORM OR EXPRESSION WHICH THE APOSTLE CONDEMNS.
1. In general, we may observe that this language relates altogether to a worldly project. The principal object is gain, “not the true riches,” or “that Rood part” which shall never be taken from those who choose it; but the gain of this world, the gain which is acquired by buying and selling.
2. The great Lord of all has no part in this scheme. These little arrogant words, “we will,” thrust Him out at once and occupy His place.
II. THE AMENDMENT SUGGESTED BY THE APOSTLE.
1. It furnishes us with a rule by which all our undertakings ought to be examined. Let us convert the views which we have in any undertaking into the form of a petition, and try whether we can, with decency, offer up such a petition to God. Let us consider whether the means by which we propose to compass these views are of such a nature that we may ask the Divine blessing to accompany them.
2. It teaches us to consider the shortness, and particularly the uncertainty, of life. There is not an element so friendly, nor a circumstance so trifling, that it may not become the minister of death. Ought not this manifest uncertainty of life, then, to cool our pursuit of earthly projects?
3. It teaches us to live in an habitual dependence on God, not only for life, but also for activity and prudence to carry our lawful designs into execution.
4. It teaches us to resign ourselves entirely to the will of God, and to submit all our schemes to Him, to prosper or to disappoint as seemeth good to Him.
1. Guard against that extravagance in laying down schemes for the time to come, which, upon cool reflection, appears so unjustifiable in the example before us.
2. Realise this important truth, that our life is but “a vapour, which appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” Die we must, and we know not how soon. (R. Walker.)
The Christian business
Business is the process of making what man needs for his physical wants, and also the process of buying and selling what is made or produced. The farmer is engaged in business, and that, too, of a most essential kind. Yet when we speak of business life we generally refer to what can be carried on in cities. By many people it is thought that Christianity has no relation with this manifold work which men carry on. At best business life, they think, must be governed by the common laws of morality, and by nothing more. What is distinctive in Christianity has nothing to do with man’s ordinary occupations. But the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, forbids all such views of man’s nature and of man’s relation to God. In that great act God declared that He for a time would become dependent on outward and material means for the sustentation of His human life. His religion has much to do with material things; for His Son came in the flesh, lived in a material home, inhabited a physical body, worked in a common carpenter’s shop, and died a physical death. It is true that some of Christ’s disciples were in His time, and are in ours, set apart for purely religious work. But these did not altogether escape secular toil. They had to live. Then, too, there were good men and true whom Christ left at their secular toil. These were none the less disciples, none the less saintly. There is, therefore, we believe, a Divine call to business. It is not a call to the same work as that undertaken by a minister of the gospel, but it comes from the same lips. What we really need is that all Christian men should feel the designation of God to all honest work. We shall never have a really Christian world and city until this recognition is general.
1. Men are adapted to different and special pursuits. One is evidently cut out to be a lawyer, another to be a doctor, another to be in a bank, another to sell in a shop, another to work in a factory. Who adapted them? We may say that they inherited certain aptitude, or that very much is due to training and early education. All very true. But unless we are going to dismiss God from human life, we must feel that His mind has been at work, and that these varying capacities are proofs of His presiding and providing will.
2. God provides not only the men but the raw material. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” His hand made all things; and when we handle the goods in our commerce, and put our prices on them, we are handling His work.
3. God made spiritual beings like ourselves to do our work through a physical medium. No direct religious work can possibly be done by us except we have been fortified by material means. With angels it may be different; but with us who have bodies it is certain that the souls within cannot act unless we are fed, clothed, nourished, and sheltered, and none of this can happen except through business life. And as God has ordered that we should work and live here through the body, He has ordered the means by which the body of man is to be kept in good working order. He who despises business despises the Lord and His ordinances. If this be so, if God designs that business life shall be the career of most men, then certain consequences follow.
(1) We ought to make business life a matter of prayer. There is a plan in the Divine Mind. Do we not wish that plan to be revealed to us? How it calms and cools the fevered brow to pray! How it nerves a man for the battle of life to pray! How it opens the heaven of light in the midst of the world’s darkness to ejaculate a prayer to God!
(2) Then, too, it is very necessary that business men should be conscious that they are doing the will of God. Men should accustom themselves to feel God with and within them at all times and places. The pious housekeeper of Bengel, the German commentator, used to think that her master spent far too much time over his books and writings; she feared that his soul was in danger. But when one day she went to call him to dinner she saw him fall back in his chair and say, “Lord Jesus, accept my work today,” and she felt no more fears about his spiritual life. The Christian business is the one that is carried on for the glory of God; it is the work in which Christ is always honoured and obeyed. In order to see the
Christianity of business we must inquire a little as to what it is we mean by the glory of God.
1. Justice is the glory of God. It is impossible to read the nature of God without seeing that justice is at the very foundation, and that all other prerogatives would be rendered nugatory if this were absent. The man, then, who would show loyalty to Christ must pay great heed to this principle of justice. It is a harder one to apply in all its details than is love. It is a more uncommon quality in men than generosity and goodnaturedness. Business life has been purposely arranged to be a training-school for this virtue. We are brought by business life into contact with unchanging laws. Punctuality is simply a means of paying a debt to our fellows, and it is obedience to the irrevocable law of time. In dealing with raw material it is the same. There is a just and honest way of working at it, and of making it of use in society. The paint washes off, the veneer falls away; the poverty of the material is revealed. There is no glory either of man or God then, but only shame. It was a shame that the workman scrimped his work, that the purchaser paid so low a price as to tempt him, that society loved shams and delusions, rather than “things honest in the sight of all men.”
2. Brotherhood is a part of the glory of God. For as He is our Common Father He certainly desires to see us act toward one another as brothers. A man may strive, but he must strive lawfully. He may do his best, but he must not seek to inflict wrong and loss on another. He may seek his own gain, but he must not seek the damage of his neighbour. These are the principles of the gospel. They are like all lofty principles, difficult of application and hard to carry into practice, but it is a part of the discipline of business life that we should learn this difficult art, and thus seek in all we do the glory of God.
3. We seek the glory of God when we remember that the material in our life exists only for the sake of the spiritual. Every Christian man must have a soul above his business. He must make the Cross of Christ central. A responsible being, he must seek strength from God to discharge his duties to those who come under his influence. A consecrated being, he must find in the fellowship of fellow-Christians that which will fill his heart with joy because it fills his hands with usefulness. (S. Pearson, M. A.)
The absorbing interest of worldly business to be guarded against
Here James does three things.
1. He seems to guard against the absorbing influence of worldly business--against thorough devotedness to the work of “buying, and selling, and getting gain.” And well he might, on the ground of the very truths which he here propounds. Besides that “the love of money is the root of all evil” 1 Timothy 6:10). Accumulated wealth--what a poor and passing portion!
2. The apostle issues a solemn caution against confidence in the future. If, indeed, a man is to be active, energetic, and successful, in any part of his appointed work, he must calculate on future time. Bat to depend implicitly, whether on the prolongation of life, or on the attainment of wealth, is utterly unreasonable, as being what truth, and the actual condition of things, forbid--and eminently dangerous, as setting aside a powerful moral motive, fitted to be useful both to saints and sinners.
3. He prescribes a wiser way--inculcating a habitual sense of dependence on Divine Providence, and a devout recognition and acknowledgment of that Providence, with respect both to the events, and to the termination, of life. (A. S. Patterson, D. D.)
The Jews and trade
Trading and chaffering has been peculiar to the Jews before and after the birth of Christ, especially to those who have lived out of Canaan, their country. For because they had no landed property among foreign nations, they were compelled to make their living by trade, which is the case now, if only it were done as it ought to be done. (Starke)
A Jewish story
Our rabbis tell us a story, which happened in the days of Rabbi Simeon, the son of Chelpatha. He was present at the circumcision of a child, and stayed with his father to the entertainment. The father brought out wine for his guests, that was seven years old, saying, “With this wine will I continue for a long time to celebrate the birth of my new-born son.” They continued supper till midnight. At that time Rabbi Simeon arose and went out, that he might return to the city in which he dwelt. On the way he saw the Angel of Death walking up and down. He said to him, “Who art thou?” He answered, “I am the messenger of God.” The rabbi said, “Why wanderest thou about thus?” He answered, “I slay those persons who say, ‘We will do this or that.’ and think not how soon death may overpower them; that man with whom thou hast supped, and who said to his guests, ‘With this wine will I continue for a long time to celebrate the birth of my new-born son,’ behold the end of his days is at hand, for he shall die within thirty days.” (Debarim Rabba.)
Ye know not what shall be on the morrow
Ignorance of the future
There has ever been amongst mankind a propensity to trust to futurity. So inveterate has the propensity been, that universal experience from the beginning of time has not yet wrought its correction. It operates like a bewitching spell. The Author of our nature has endowed us with memory but not with prescience. We remember the past; but we know nothing of the future--nothing beyond what He has been pleased to tell us. The remark is trite, but true, that it is better for us that we do not know the secrets of the future. The remark, however, is one which is usually heard in seasons of calamity and distress. But while we might, in such circumstances, have no wish for the anticipation of certain evil, there could, we may think, be no such objection to the foresight of good. By such foresight, it may seem, we should have a threefold enjoyment of it--in expectation, in possession, and in recollection. But here too-the man of spiritual mind at least will admit--“ignorance is bliss.” If adversity is distressing, prosperity is fascinating and tempting. And if it exerts such an influence over our hearts when possessed, inducing forgetfulness of God and disregard of our higher interests, what an addition would be made to its seductive power were a man foreseeing a long and uninterrupted course of it. In all respects, therefore, it is better that futurity is hidden from our view. And this bounding of our vision should be a teacher of humility. It should make us feel the infinite distance there is between the creature and the Creator--between ourselves, with our short-sighted vision, and the omniscient God. In the passage there are two states of mind and heart brought into contrast: the one described as that which men are naturally prone to indulge, the other that which God enjoins, and which really becomes them.
1. The former is confident in prospect, and boastful in success. The man is secure of life, of health, of a sound mind, of a ready market, of a sure profit; and of all for a whole year. He is certain of prospering. All in fancy stands already accomplished before him. He calculates neither on death, nor on sickness, nor on any hindrance to his schemes. The stream flows on without a ripple. No rock interposes to chafe or to divide its waters. His sky is all sunshine: no cloud comes over its brightness. The other character we have in the words of the fifteenth verse--“For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” The man who says this is supposed to feel it. He humbly recollects that “his times” are in other hands than his own, and uncertain “what even a day,” far more what a year, “may bring forth,” to that God he commits everything he purposes for the future.
2. Then again, the former character is boastful in success. This is equally implied in his language. The man who trusts in himself for success will only follow out the same temper of mind by taking the credit and the glory to himself in success. The other, in the same spirit in which on entering on his course he had “committed his way unto the Lord,” ascribes to Him, with a heart overflowing with lowly and lively gratitude, all the praise of his prosperity.
3. And we may add, as still another feature of the contrast, that the one is fretful in disappointment; the other humbly and cheerfully submissive. To every judgment and every conscience, without the fear of a dissentient voice, may I put the question--Which of these states of mind is the more becoming? and which, too, is the more truly happy? There can be but one reply. Let us, then, cultivate the one, and repress the other. What is there respecting which we can Say we know what shall be on the morrow? But, while the apostle does not exclude from the uncertainty the various engagements of business which the boastfully confident character he here introduces anticipates, he evidently has special reference to life itself--on the continuance of which all else depends. This is the point to which he specially alludes: “Ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” The similitude is striking. Such is human life--so fleeting, so transitory, so incapable of being, even for one moment, arrested and held. But not less true is it of property and business than of life. Today an extensive tenement stands secure, yielding a rental that affords the means of sustenance and comfort to a contented and happy family: tomorrow it is a smoking ruin. To-day a man invests all he is worth in a promising speculation, and is in full and buoyant hope of an abundant return: tomorrow an event, such as no one could have anticipated, occurs, which sinks the markets, blasts his prospects, and leaves him to sigh over irretrievable ruin. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
There are some of us who, with vain hopes and faithless terrors, peer into the future, as well as some who, with unavailing regret, brood upon the past. What are the evils that we are to do most to avoid as respects our future? I think they are three-fold; they may be roughly defined as shadowy hopes, needless anticipations, and procrastinated repentance.
1. Shadowy hopes! When the poet says “Man never is, but always to be, blest,” while he thus describes our imagined bliss as a floating upon the future, as a fragment of a rainbow that always flies as we advance. How many of you, if you will confess the truth, are looking for happiness, not from anything which is in your lives, but for something which you hope will be before you die. Well, if we are doing so, we are not wise: there is a three-fold error and folly in wasting and making miserable our present life by these shadowy hopes. It is foolish, first, because the day which we are thus looking to, and hoping for, may, and very likely will, never come at all. We cannot thus rely upon to-morrow, and we know not what a day may bring forth, and what is our life? Death does not care for men’s disappointments, he does not take into account men’s plans. Death! It is a folly to postpone your happiness to a time which you may never see, and it is consequently a folly thus to live only in the future, because most probably even when your end is attained, even if you get the thing you are now wishing for, these hopes, being earthly hopes, and therefore in their very nature illusory, may bring you just no happiness at all. You may be happier, in the present, if you only knew it, than in the future, even if you get what you hope for. A man gains rest only to find that rest is weariness, and rank only to find that he has touched a bubble, riches only to find that the path of the rich man is strewn with thorns. And the third, and perhaps the most important reason why a life wasted in shadowy hopes is a folly, is, that thereby we lose what we might perhaps have had of present happiness. When St. Bernard was travelling, he was so absorbed in his own thoughts, that after riding all day along the shores of the lake of Geneva, he asked in the evening where the lake was. Even so we, by looking forward to some time that may never come, lose many a bright scene, many a golden moment, many a sweet wayside flower. Our only real chance of happiness is to get such happiness out of the present, as the present, almost always in some sense or other, has to give to the humble and the good, and if it has none to give, then at least we feel that life has other things besides happiness, and that it is no great matter.
2. And then there is a worse form of this folly of living in the future, perhaps equally common, although exactly opposite in character; it is to destroy all chances of present happiness, not by those vain shadowy hopes, but by equally shadowy fears. Rich men have been known to starve themselves, and even to have committed suicide in the mere dread of future poverty. The worst of evils, says a French proverb, are those which never happen. At any rate, it is absurd for us in any case to suffer them twice over, and sometimes they are more in anticipation than in reality. I have been speaking, for the most part, with immediate reference to this life, but I will extend it to the world beyond. Whatever may await the sinner in the next life, God clearly did not mean this life to be devastated by anticipated horror. As for heaven, you can go there as often as you will. If you do not do so now, you will never be able to do so hereafter. If the angels never sing songs to you now, how can they do so when you come to die? I said, like Richard Baxter, to go to heaven every day. We enter heaven most when we do our duty best and most simply.
3. I can but touch briefly on the one other error about the future--but that is the deadliest, i.e., procrastinated repentance, reliance on the future to mend the wilful sins of the present. For these other follies of which I have spoken are hurtful, but this is absolutely ruinous. It ruins the present by encouraging continuance in sin, by rendering recovery from sin more and more impossible. It ruins the past whatever it may have been. You will repent in the future. But how if you have no future? I say nothing of the terrible impiety of thus bidding God bide your time before you choose to obey His laws, nothing of the shame of thus turning God’s mercies into an engine against your soul--nothing of the insolence of declaring that He has not meant anything by His anger. But this I know, there is no known sin so near the sin that is past praying for, so akin to the sin against the Holy Ghost, as this wilful predetermination to postpone repentance that you may enjoy now the depravity of sin. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Man’s ignorance of the future
I. THE FACT.
II. THE PROBABLE REASONS.
1. TO make us have a deeper conviction of the Divine knowledge.
2. To remind us of our subjection to God.
III. THE INFLUENCE which our ignorance of futurity ought to have upon us.
1. To check our presumption.
2. To check our anxiety. (R. C. Dillon, D. D.)
Impossible to forecast events
The Times spoke thus of an honoured and lamented nobleman the day before his death
”Lord Iddesleigh will go to-morrow to Osborne, will then deliver up his seal of office, and will on Friday return to The Pynes, Exeter.” Let us listen, however, to Holy Scripture: “Go to, now,” &c. Even journalists might well remember this.
What is your life?--
What is life?
I. LIFE IS A TEST. Every new ship must have a trial trip. If you take some one into your employ, and a crisis comes where his behaviour will make or break you, you say, “Now I will test him; now I will see what is in him.” And, my friends, our whole life is a test, and we are all on a trial trip. Men, angels, devils the spectators; heaven, earth, and hell watching. Every word spoken and every action having ten thousand echoes.
II. IT IS AN APPRENTICESHIP. We study eight or ten years and we get our profession, we work five or six years and we get our trade, and then we go forth to the work of life. But this world is not our workshop. This world is to be destroyed, but do you suppose that because this world is to be destroyed all the affairs of the universe are to stop? How many hands and feet and eyes are necessary for the carrying out of the business of this world, and how many activities will be required for the business enterprises of eternity?
III. IT IS A CONFLICT. Have you not found it so? If you have never tried to curb your temper, if you have never tried to subdue your passions, if you have never tried to be better men, better women, then you know not what I mean; but if you have tried to do better, and wanted to be better, and struggled to do better, then you know that Paul was not only graphic but accurate when he described life as war with the world, and war with the flesh, and war with the devil. It may have been a conflict with yourselves, it may have been a conflict with poverty, it may have been a conflict with higher social position, with an unhappy family name, with the persecutions of the world; but I warrant you life has been to most of you a hand-to-hand fight.
IV. IT IS A PROPHECY. What you are now you will in all probability be for ever, only on a larger scale. Are all your preferences toward the bad? The probability is that they will be so for ever. Are your preferences toward the good? Do you want to be better? Do you long after God as an eternal portion? I tell you plainly that you are on the way to grandeurs which no summer’s night’s dream had ever power to depict.
V. IT IS A PREPARATION. If we are going a long journey we must get ready; we must have a guidebook; we must have apparel. If we are going among dangers we want to be armed. We have all started on a road which has no terminus, and once started we will never come back. Are we armed? Have we the robe? Are we ready for the future?
VI. IT IS A GREAT UNCERTAINTY. Of those people who perished on the Brooklyn Bridge, there was not one who expected to quit life in that way. Some, no doubt, had said, “Well, I shall leave the world under this disease, or under that disease.” Another person said, “There are so many perils in that style of business, in that way I shall come to the end of my earthly life.” Not one ever expected to go in this way--to perish on the bridge--and to every man the step out of this life is a surprise. I never knew any one to go in the way he expected. You hear of some one who has been an invalid for twenty-five years, and he always departs suddenly. You hear of some friend who, after thirty years of illness, has departed, and you say, “Why, is it possible?” Our life is struck through with uncertainty. Our friends change, our associations change, our circumstances change, our health changes. All change. But, blessed be God, there is a rock on which we can stand, the Rock of Ages. It is no autocrat at the head of the universe. My Father is King. Though the mountains may depart and the hills remove, His kindness and His love and His grace will fail us never, never. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
What is your life?--
1. In the first place I will remark that it is a very mysterious part of God’s dealings, this making our life so uncertain. A man has a work to do, a great work, compared with which everything else he does is mere trifling, and yet he does not know whether he shall have twenty years in which to do it, or ten, or a few months or days. Surely if we were not accustomed to the thought this would seem strange to us; it is different from most earthly arrangements; men who give a piece of work to be done assign a time for doing it, they do not say, “I may come to-day or to-morrow, or perhaps not for twenty years, but whenever I come I expect the work to be ready.” Or, again, to take a slightly different view of the case, it must appear strange that such different periods should be given to different persons to do the same work; one person has only childhood, another gets into youth, another is left to mature old age, and falls asleep rather than dies. Some, too, have long warning of their end; a man falls into a consumption and knows that within a certain time he must die, and so he has time as it were to get himself ready; while another is cut off on a sudden, and apparently in health drops down and expires; one man has frequent warnings by illness, and is in such a state that he knows he is liable to be cut off any day; while another has some sudden accident and is gone. It will throw all the light required on the difficulties of which I have been speaking, if we remember one thing, namely this, that our state here is one of trial; we are not told to do this thing and that so much for their own sake as for the sake of seeing whether we will obey God or no. We speak of the future as if it were something certainly to come; we speak of doing this and that to-morrow as if to-morrow were sure to come; but if God calls us away this night, what future, what to-morrow will there be for us? there will be a to-morrow for some doubtless, but will there be a to-morrow for us? Thus, you see, we may not reckon on to-morrow, we do not know whether there will be such a thing, and so the present becomes our great concern, the present is ours; the past is gone and cannot be recalled, the future may never be, but the present is indeed our own to work in, and the most powerful persuasive that we can have to set to work at once is the uncertainty of our having any other time allowed us. In this way, I think, we see something of the explanation of the mystery of God’s dealings in making our lives so uncertain; we see that purposes of trial may be carried out thus better than in any other way; and if any man feel inclined to murmur, we can assure him that if he does not submit himself to God’s will as things are, undoubtedly he would be just as stiff-necked, or rather more so, were he assured that he should live a hundred or a thousand years. And so of that other point I mentioned, namely, the difference of time allotted to different persons; this also seems quite consistent with a system such as we know that of God to be. For what is man’s trial? simply this, whether in the position in which God has placed him he will strive to live a life pleasing to God.
2. I will next observe that the truth in the text is the best truth to carry about with us in order to enable us to set things at their value. If the uncertainty and shortness of life make those unhappy who are negligent of the will of God, in the same proportion will it give peace and comfort to the minds of those who do set themselves to live according to His holy will: for the troubles of life will appear trifling to him who thinks of himself as a traveller on his road home; a person on a journey will put up with many inconveniences, because he says they cannot last long, and h-me will appear even pleasanter after a rough journey.
3. Lastly, I wish to consider the question of St. James, “What is your life?” in a sense rather different from that intended by the apostle, but yet one which afford us much instruction and comfort. “What is your life?” If any one is troubled by this question, his answer is in the Creed which he repeats, “I believe in Jesus Christ--who was born--who was dead and buried--who rose again the third day--who ascended into heaven.” In the life of our Lord, Christian brethren, we are to see the life of man represented as in a picture: what He has done we may do, not in our strength, of course, but here is the very blessing of the Christian Church, that we may rise above our own strength, we may claim union with Him “who was born, dead, and buried, but who rose again.” (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)
I. WHAT A DESCRIPTION IS HERE GIVEN OF THE LIFE OF THE NATURAL MAN! “A vapour”--a filmy nothing! Yesterday he was not; he seems scarcely to have existence now; to-morrow he is gone--in a moment gone. Such is man’s natural life; one cold, one fever, one mistake in medicine, in eternity. Yet men live, neglecting their souls, as if they were to live for ever. But look we at another feature of his life: look we at his moral life, when destitute of the grace of God. It is but a wretched “vapour”--a murky vapour. It is but one step above the beast. Look at the mere man of business. Do not think I speak against business; it is one of the mistakes of mankind to suppose that a man must retire from his vocation to give himself up to God. God requires him to give himself up to Him in his business. But look at him the slave of his business, from Monday morning till Saturday night; occupying himself, indeed--altogether occupying himself--but never occupying himself one moment for God. He has not the least concern in this matter. Rise we higher: look we at the man of intellect, the man of intelligence. He dives into the earth, ascends into the clouds, travels, over the sea, goes over the world--thinks himself a man of wisdom. Ask Solomon what he thought--what was the end of the matter with him. To “fear God and keep His commandments.” That is what lie summed up all his knowledge in; as if there were nothing else worth knowing. We sometimes see beautiful exhibitions of what is termed domestic happiness; but the chief ingredient is wanting, when a man is destitute of the fear of God. Even the benevolence we sometimes see displayed by a worldly man (would that there were more of it exhibited among the saints of God!)--self is at the root of it. And his very religion has all self at the root of it--self-righteousness, self-power, self-wisdom. Shall we descend lower? Shall I ask what there is in profligacy? Is there a profligate here? Is this life? What I is dissipation life? Is excess life? It is not worthy the name of life; it is a mere vaporous nothing, a murky vapour, a stench, as it were, in the nostrils of Jehovah; and it ought to be a stench to thine own soul.
II. Consider THE STRONG CONTRAST WHICH THE LIFE OF A CHILD OF GOD PRESENTS TO THAT WHICH! HAVE BEEN PLACING BEFORE YOU. Here is no “vapour”--here is substance, reality, truth. “To be spiritually minded is life and peace.” This is life--to be led of the Spirit, to be quickened by the Spirit, to be drawn by the Spirit, to be kept by the Spirit, and to follow His guidance. This is life--this is peace; nothing short of it. “Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God with your bodies and your spirits, which are God’s.” Here is life; no “vapour,” a substance, a reality, a something, a real thing. To “glorify God” is the highest element in man’s being. Whether a man is in the lowest poverty, or whether he is called to sit upon the most exalted throne, it matters not; if he live under this principle, it is true life. It signifies not what a man’s engagements are--it gives a dignity to them, be they what they may. Look at the source ofthis life: nothing less than the Spirit of God. Yet how small were its beginnings! Oh! the wonders of this spiritual life! Think of its security “hid with Christ in God”--hid with Christ’s life; just as secure as Christ’s life is; the perfections of Jehovah encircling it, and that continually. Who can declare the happiness of this life? The happiness of self-denial! And whence is it that this life comes to us? It comes from the life of Christ: His life is our life--it is the support of our life. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
What is your life
When a prince dies they toll the great bell of the cathedral that all the city may hear it, and that for miles round the tidings may spread. Swift messengers of the press bear the news through the length and breadth of the land, and all men’s ears are made to tingle. “The Lord’s voice crieth unto the city,” let believers be quick to hear the call to humiliation, to awakening, and to prayer that the visitation may be overruled for great and lasting good. A sudden death is a specially impressive warning. In a moment our strength is turned to weakness, and our comeliness into corruption. Now, upon this matter we have nothing to say but what is commonplace, for, garnish them as you may, graves are among the commonest of common things. Yet a solemn reflection upon the shortness of life, and the certainty of death, may prove to be important, and even invaluable, if it be allowed to penetrate our hearts, and influence our lives. History tells us of Peter Waldo, of Lyons, who was sitting at a banquet as thoughtless and careless as any of the revellers, when suddenly one at the table bowed his head and died. Waldo was startled into thought, and went home to seek his God; he searched the Scriptures, and, according to some, became a great helper, if not the second founder, of the Waldensian Church, which in the Alpine valleys kept the lamp of the gospel burning when all around was veiled in night. A whole Church of God was thus strengthened and perpetuated by the hallowed influence of death upon a single mind. I suppose it is also true that Luther in his younger days, walking with his friend Alexis, saw him struck to the ground by a flash of lightning, and became thenceforward prepared in heart for that deep work of grace through which he learned the doctrine of justification by faith, and rose to be the liberator of Europe from Papal bondage. How much every way we owe to this weighty subject! May a prince’s death awaken many of you to life. He being dead now speaks to you; from yonder sunny shores he reminds you of the valley of death-shade which you must shortly traverse.
I. The text begins by reminding us that WE HAVE NO FORESIGHT: “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.” The text divides itself into an emphatic question, “What is your life?” and an instructive answer: “It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”
1. First, I say, we have here an emphatic question: he asks, “What is your life?” For solidity, for stability; what is it? What is there in it? is it not composed of such stuff as dreams are made of? Your own breath is a fair picture of the flimsy, airy thing which men call life. What is your life? What is it for continuance? Some things last awhile, and run adown the centuries; but what is your life? Even garments bear some little wear and tear; but what is your life? A deticate texture; no cobweb is a tithe as frail. It will fail before a touch, a breath. Justinian, an emperor of Rome, died by going into a room which had been newly painted; Adrian, a pope, was strangled by a fly; a consul struck his foot against his own threshold, and his foot mortified, so that he died thereby. There are a thousand gates to death; and, though some seem to be narrow wickets, many souls have passed through them. Men have been choked by a grape stone, killed by a tile falling from the roof of a house, poisoned by a drop, carried, off by a whiff of foul air. I know not what there is that is too little to slay the greatest king. It is a marvel that man lives at all. So unstable is our life that the apostle says, What is it? So frail, so fragile is it, that he does not call it a flower of the field, or the snuff of a candle, but asks, What is our life? It is as if be had said--Is it anything? Is it not a near approach to nothing? St. Augustine used to say he did not know whether to call it a dying life or a living death, and I leave you the choice between these two expressions. This is certainly a dying tire; its march is marked by graves. Nothing but a continuous miracle keeps any one of us from the sepulchre. Were Omnipotence to stay its power but for a moment, earth would return to earth, and ashes to ashes. It is a dying life: and equally true is it that it is a living death. We are always dying. Every beating pulse we tell leaves but the number less: the more years we count in our life, the fewer remains in which we shall behold the light of day. From childhood to youth, from youth to manhood, from manhood to grey old age we march onward in serried ranks from which no man can retire. We tarry not even when we sleep: we are continually moving forward like the waters of yonder river, on whose banks we find a habitation. What, then, is our life? That is a question which remains to a large degree unanswered and unanswerable.
2. Yet our text affords us what is in some aspects an instructive answer. It does not so much tell us what life actually is as what it is like.
(1) “It is even a vapour.” James compares our life, you see, to a very subtle, unsubstantial, flimsy thing--a vapour. If you live upon an eminence, from which you can look down upon a stretch of country, you see in the early morning a mist covering all the valleys. In a little time you look from the same window, and the vapour has all vanished. It was so thin, so fine, so much like gossamer, that a breath of wind has scattered it, or peradventure the sun has drawn it aloft; at any rate, not a trace of that all-encompassing vapour remains. Such is your life. Or you have marked a cloud in the western sky, illuminated with those marvellous lights which glowed during those extraordinary sunsets, the like of which none of our fathers had seen. You looked at the jewelled mass; it shone in the perfection of beauty, and all the colours of the rainbow were blended in its hues: in another instant, lo, it was not; it was gone past all recall. Such is your life. This morning, as we came hither, we saw our breath: it was before our eye for an instant, and anon it had gone. Such is the picture which James presents to us. “What is your life? It is even a vapour.” He proceeds to explain his own symbol in a sentence which is full of meaning.
(2) “It is even a vapour, that appeareth.” Vapour is so ethereal, phantomlike, and unreal, that it may rather be said to appear than to exist. If you could reach yon fleecy cloud, you would scarcely know that you had entered it, for it would possibly appear to be the thinnest of mist. The vapour which steams from your mouth, how light, how airy, it is next door to nothing; it only “appeareth.” And such is this life--a dream, a vain show, an apparition of the night.
(3) Further, the apostle says, It “appeareth for a little time.” It is only a very little while that a man lives at the longest. Compare a man’s life with that of a tree. A hundred years ago that oak seemed every way as venerable as it does to-day, whereas the man was then unthought of by his grandsire. Compare our life with the existence of this world; I mean not the present state of the earth as fitted up for man, but I allude to those unknown ages which intervened between the present arrangement and that beginning wherein God created the heavens and the earth. The long eras of fire and water, the reigns of fishes and reptiles, the periods of tropical heat and polar ice, make one think of man as a thing of yesterday. Then contrast our life with the being of the eternal Lord: and what is man--man when most venerable with years? A Methuselah, what is he? He is but an insect born in the morning’s sunbeam, sporting in the noontide ray, and dead when the dews begin to fall. He appeareth for a little while.
(4) The parallel is further consummated by the apostle’s adding, “And then vanisheth away.” The cloud is gone from the mountain. Where is it? It has vanished away. No trace of it is left: neither can you recall it. We too shall soon be gone; gone as a dream when one awaketh. With the most of us our remembrance will be short. The air has felt the passing-bell, and now the stars look down upon a stone writ large with “HERE HE LIES!” Or the dews shall wet a grass-grown mound, girt about with brambles, on which a few wild flowers have sprung up spontaneously to show how life shall yet triumph over death. Children may bear our name, and yet a fourth generation shall quite forget that we ever sojourned in this region. Such is our life--“a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”
II. THE LESSONS WHICH LIE WITHIN THIS TRUTH. First, If this life be unsubstantial as a vapour--and nobody can deny the fact--let us regard it as such, and let us seek for something substantial elsewhere. It may be well to make the best of both worlds; but of this poor world nothing can be made unless it be viewed in the light of another. This is a poor withering life at the best, for we all do fade as a leaf. Next, Is life most uncertain? We know it is: no one attempts to deny it. It is certain that life will come to an end; but it is most uncertain when it will come to that end. Is it so uncertain? Then let us not delay. Since death is hastening, haste thou thyself until thou has found a refuge in the cleft of the Rock of Ages, and art safe in the arms of Jesus. Since life is so uncertain, oh, haste thee, Christian, to serve thy God while the opportunity is given thee: be diligent to-day to do those works which perfect saints above and holy angels cannot do. Is life so short? Does it only appear for a little time, and then vanish away? Then let us put all we can into it. If life be short, it is wisdom to have no fallows, but to sow every foot of ground while we can. Is life so short? Then do not let us make any very great provision for it. If I were going a day’s voyage, I should not wish to take with me enough biscuit and salt beef to last for three years; it would only cumber the boat. One walking-stick is an admirable help, as I often find: but to carry a bundle of them when going on a journey would be a superfluity of absurdity. Alas, how many load themselves as if life’s journey would last a thousand years, at the least! Is time so short? Then do not let us fret about its troubles and discomforts. A man is on a journey, and puts up at an inn, and when he is fairly in the hostelry, he perceives that it is a poor place, with scant food, and a hard bed. “Well, well,” says he, “I am off the first thing tomorrow morning, and so it does not matter.” Must life vanish away? We know it must. What then? That vanishing is the end of one life and the beginning of another. And is death quite sure to come to me? Then, as I cannot avoid it, let me face it. But death will become another thing to you if you are renewed in heart. To the Christian it is an angel beckoning him onward and upward. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. What is the life of the LOVER OF PLEASURE?
A true estimate of life
1. It is a wandering life; always in pursuit of pleasure, but never satisfied.
2. It is a hollow life; void of all that is exalting and ennobling, and truly unsubstantial as it regards all that is most worthy of the pursuit of an immortal being.
3. It is an accursed life; under the curse of the broken law.
4. It is a tumultuous life. The lover of pleasure spends his time and wastes the most favourable opportunities in the midst of boisterous pursuits and tumultuous joys.
II. What is the life of the WORLDLY-MINDED?
1. It is idolatrous. The world in different senses and under different characters is the idol of the worldly-minded man; and to this idol he offers body and soul, devotes time and talents, and sacrifices earthly ease and heavenly happiness.
2. Such a life is stamped with simplicity and folly--which will appear most obviously if you consider the objects the worldly-man has in view, the means he employs for the attainment of these objects, and the end obtained in the accomplishment of such objects.
III. What is the life of the FORMALIST? it is laborious, enchanted, fleshly and empty.
1. It is laborious. The formalist has a standard, and to keep up this standard much carnal and bodily exercise are necessary.
2. The life of the formalist is an enchanted life.
3. It is likewise a fleshly life. It originates in the flesh, centres in the flesh, and ends in the flesh.
4. An empty life. It is a shadow without substance; like a statue, which, though it may be a true and correct likeness of a human being, is void of life and energy, and therefore only the representation of the human being. (J. F.Whitty.)
What is life?
We have a life--what are we going to make of it? Yet, though life is short and uncertain, it is wonderful in power; it can do wonderful things. How it can love and hate! How it can pray and blaspheme! What are we going to do with it? Let us look at a few ways, and make our choice.
1. The moneymaking way. Will that do?
2. The mechanical way. (Technical knowledge.) Suppose you take all the meausrements of a house, but never speak to the occupants!
3. Pleasure. Now all these ways of life have their right side. We cannot live without money. We can get but a little way on in life without knowledge. And every one of us needs pleasure, and ought to have more relaxation than some of us get now. But there are ugly circumstances in life which mar all the success that is possible along that line of movement. We have £50,000 a year, but we cannot add one cubit to our stature, or make one hair white or black. We know every science, yet we cannot tell what will be on the morrow.
It is the business of the Christian teacher to keep these facts steadily before the public mind, and to draw the heart away from cisterns that are broken, from charms that are mocking, and to fix it upon things invisible, spiritual, Divine.
1. What we want in life is a supreme purpose worthy of our powers. If our purpose is to be rich, the greatest section of our nature will be simply untouched or perverted. If our purpose is to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, our whole nature will be moved to its best exertions, and will produce its best effects.
2. We want next a right view of those trials and circumstances over which we have absolutely no control. Ask why you are baffled--why you are not allowed to scale the only wall which separates you from the sunny land where the gardens bask in perpetual summer; and such questionings will lead you back into solemn sanctuaries, and show you that the earth and all its affairs are under the direction and judgment of God. (J. Parker, D. D.)
What is life?
I. Life is A SENSE--the soul’s career in a body. On this account the body should be taken good care of, wisely inhabited and vigorously controlled 1 Corinthians 9:27).
II. Life is AN IMPULSE--ever pushed forward by some dominant motive, as of selfishness, or benevolence, avarice, ambition, pride, vanity, love of pleasure, &c. (2 Corinthians 5:14; Galatians 2:20).
III. Life is a PURSUIT, ever reaching out after or pursuing something in general that pleases us (Psalms 4:6).
IV. Life is AN ACT, i.e., characterised by things done; either what ought to be done, or what ought not to be done. And this is one of the main pivots of our accountability (2 Corinthians 5:10).
V. Life is A POWER, ever sending out influence, as a magnet sends out attraction, or the sun its light and heat.
VI. Life is A TEAR--a scene of varied and multiplied trials. “Born to trouble” is the world’s cradle inscription. Witness Paul’s catalogue (2 Corinthians 6:4-5; 2 Corinthians 11:23-27). But what an admirable offset (2 Corinthians 1:5). And the same resource is free and open to every child of God.
VII. Life is A PERIOD--i.e., with a definite length, it has also an end. For this some adequate preparation should be made.
VIII. Life is A PROSPECT; looking beyond the bounds of time over into the bosom of eternity, and forward to the bar of God (2Co 2 Timothy 4:8).
IX. Life is A WANT: alike in its beginning, continuance, and end. It is ever needy, as an infant for its mother’s arms; or as a vine, stretching forth its tendrils for something by which to climb, or upon which to lean. And how all-happy is that soul that finds the true source of strength, and passes through all the wilderness of this world, and comes up out of it at last “leaning upon her beloved.” (J. G. Hall, D. D.)
What is your life
I. WHAT IS THE INTENTION OF “LIFE”? NO man of any consideration can look on “this life” for a moment without connecting it with “the life that is to come.” It is evident that the first great intention of this “life” is education--so that as in a man’s “life,” there is a portion upon this earth allotted to what is strictly preparatory to the rest--so is the whole immortal existence of a man arranged, that there should be a period of instruction and cultivation, to be the education-time for his eternity. God deals with us here as a father deals with the children he is training: nothing is final; but everything has a direct influence upon something else that is to be final. And if it be so, can you wonder that there is so much that is mysterious to our present view? Can a child, while he is a child, understand his own discipline? Allowing, then, that this “life” is education, education is made up of two parts--probation and cultivation. And when I say probation, I mean by that word, that a man is to know himself, and to show to other men what he really is. The circumstances in which he is put are exactly those the best to unfold his real character. He is treated as a perfectly free agent. He is placed between good and evil. Opposite influences bear upon him. He has such tendencies that, if he follow them, he will be bad and miserable; and he has such convictions and assistances that, if he uses them, he will be good and happy. Every trial-every happiness--every event of life--is to develop character; and, as soon as ever the character is fully developed--be it what it may--then comes death--then comes judgment--which judgment, be it remembered, will not be to decide a man’s state--that is decided by his daily actions, i.e., while he lived here; but it will be the public declaration of the decision, made to commend itself to the minds of the whole universe: because, when the decision is made, it will appear to be in strictest conformity with all that every man manifested himself to be while he was down here, in this probationary “life.” That is probation. But education is also cultivation. Partly by instilling knowledge, but still more by drawing out powers, and by establishing good habits, and exercising right feelings, a child is educated for his after-life. Just such is all machinery which surrounds us in our present state. Every variety of fortune--every little, minute occurrence of life--the Bible--the Holy Spirit--the very atonement itself--are all calculated to train: they are all means to an end. Now, if this “life” be thus education, let us see two inferences. In the first place, they are quite wrong who think that the “life” and character of a man are to undergo some great change and some remarkable metamorphosis when he dies. And again, is “life” indeed education--education for eternity? then I draw my reasoning back from that higher world--What is the great character of heaven? It sees, it loves, it reflects, God’s glory. Do you wish to know, to-night, how your education is getting on? I ask, How far could the past year bear witness to your having lived under the influence of a desire to promote God’s glory?
II. But now I pass to the second thought which lies coiled up in the great question, “What is life?”--ITS DURATION, NOW, we would have you, brethren, in this matter to distinctly understand and remember in your minds that, however uncertain the term of “life” may seem to us, it is most determinately fixed by Almighty God. Perhaps I should not be wrong to go further than this, and to say that probably, at this very instant, that course of events is already in progress, and that disease is already existing in your body, which is to be God’s instrument to remove you. It is likely that, for many years, we, most of us, carry about with us the seeds of our own dissolution. And is not it to be believed that that period of death is determined according to the preparedness of the soul? and that as soon as ever a man’s spirit has become sufficiently assimilated to its final state--be that state which it may--then the word is spoken--the thread is cut--the ripe saint and the ripe sinner are both cut down! Men talk and menplan for the future, and who that visited our world as a stranger would ever guess, from people’s ways and people’s words, that there were such a thing amongst us as old age--that there were such a thing amongst us as death? Every one seems to see somebody who is older than himself very well, yet alive; and then he thinks, “Why should not I live as long as that man?” Then, “What is your life?” At the most a span; and that span is held by a thread. There is no certainty of “to-morrow”; and many years are out of the question! And, with the “angel of death thus in the air, can you sit down at your pleasures, and no “blood” on “the door”? If that “blood” is once there, upon your heart--which is a man’s “door”--the “door” of his existence--if “the blood of Christ” has ever been applied--everything is changed age is happy--death is joy. And yet, “What is your life?” Short in nature; but how much shorter in grace! Who shall fix how near will be the hour when the Spirit, who has been striving So long, shall depart, and with Him all that makes “life” worth living? Oh, brethren! what would this drear “life” be if the Spirit were gone?
III. WHAT IS THE REAL NATURE OF “LIFE”? It is a part of God’s teaching that “the life” of every creature is “the blood”; and when God said that, He said it in reference to “the blood of sacrifice.” There must, therefore, be some antitype to man’s “blood” which constitutes “life.” And what is that antitype--which I do not say gives “life” to anything, but which is “the life” of everything--what will it be but the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ? I may follow that a tittle further. As soon as a man is really united to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit actually enters into that man’s soul. A new power and principle of “life” is in him: new affections breathe; new energies spring up; and so there comes a certain secret, hidden “life,” which consists in communion with God--is fed by hidden manna--exercising itself in hidden thoughts, in hidden places. And that is “life” because all the other “life”--everything that is worthy the name--is only the acting out of that first inner “life.” Then, from that “life of God” within--which dates itself from the application of “the blood of Christ”--therecomes a noble expanding of the intellect of a man, and the affections of a man, and the whole being of a man, out into the service of God. (James Vaughan, M. A.)
Life a Divine gift and discipline
I. LIFE IS A DIVINE GIFT. We are so accustomed to look upon life and all that it brings with it as absolutely our own, to be spent in any way we choose, that to grasp the thought of its being a gift for which we are responsible is to experience a radical revolution in our favourite modes of thinking. The false view of life, which is so prevalent, springs from the fact that men are endowed with the power of moulding circumstances to their will, the power of manipulating forces for their own ends, and therefore are prone to make themselves their own centre--“the be-all and the end-all” of the universe. Hence, I think we may say that the difference between the regenerate and the unregenerate lies fundamentally in this, that while the former have become aware of a Divine purpose in history, and a Divine meaning in life, and are endeavouring to carry forward the one and to realise the other, the latter are blind to these things, and are the unwilling, unconscious instruments in God’s hand for the achievement of His will. The controversy between the Church and the world is reduced to this issue--whether life shall be interpreted in and for itself, or in and for God.Nothing is more sad, and yet nothing is more characteristic of our own age, than its boastful dependence on self, its claims to summon all things in heaven and earth before its tribunal, and its arrogant assumption of superiority over all the eras of the past. Well for it were it more distrustful of self! The man of business, for instance, whose trade or occupation is flourishing, whose balance at the banker’s is mounting up by hundreds or thousands, with whom, in common phrase, the world is going well, is he not prone to nourish a sort of self-satisfaction, a feeling that his success is traceable all along to the shrewd common sense and business capacity which are his? The man whose interests are chiefly intellectual, the politician, the statesman, the author, as he listens to the plaudits of admiring crowds, or reads the warm eulogies of newspapers and reviews, does he not at times congratulate himself upon the skill of brain and strength of will which could raise him so high above the mass of men? Life in these cases is valued indeed for itself, the material comfort it can command, the social influence it can secure. To become independent of God is to become dependent on things that are but hollow mockeries. Now, in order to be rescued from this false independence of God, we must grasp by the spiritual understanding this thought, that life is a Divine gift. God gives it to us freely, without merit or effort on our part. Life, therefore, involves--first, reason, and second, a purpose.
1. As to its reason. Life is rooted in Divine love. If we are not to lose faith in humanity, in progress, and in the future of the world, we must hold fast by God’s love as lying at the deepest roots of life, even though many things seem to shake our assurance. God loves us, and hence He gives us life. Love is active, exists, indeed, in virtue of its exercise. It creates worlds, and peoples them with happy spirits. Nay, more, it surrounds these spirits with every influence that can evoke their love and satisfy their yearnings. There are moments which come to the most of us when we can almost echo the prayer of one who was a great sufferer--“Wherefore, then, hast Thou brought me forth out of the womb? Oh, that I had given up the ghost, and no eye had seen me!” The answer to our heart’s pain is to be found here--God gives us life, therefore He loves us. His love is the all-sufficient reply to the pains and losses of his. But, now, look at this thought in another aspect. If life is the evidence of Divine love, then, I take it, there is the closest bond existing between God and man. Some religious teachers speak of the sinner as though he lived in the remotest fringe of God’s universe, outside the range of His love, though not of His power. This is to misconceive the true relation. For, indeed, what closer bond or stronger link can unite God and the sinner than eternal love? If this fails, where shall we find a power that shall succeed? If God’s love fails to win men from their sins, where shall we discover the force that shall avail? Ah! the hope for humanity lies here. A great German preacher is reported to have said of himself, “I was brought up in a hard school; my father taught me not to cry out even though my head was dashed against a wall. But when I saw my sins, and realised the love of God, I could not refrain from weeping like a child.” Pessimism--the belief that life is essentially evil--is in its deepest ground the result of spiritual blindness. And to be blind to the affections of God’s heart is the greatest curse that can come to man.
2. As to its purpose. Life is given us to realise the Divine will. This also is a thought which comes to most of us as with the freshness of revelation. The majority of men do not realise that life includes a Divine purpose. They are a sort of moral flotsam and jetsam, at the mercy of every wave or eddy of circumstance, devoid of stability, and, therefore, devoid of all noble effort or attainment. Is not this the secret of the weakness, the irresolution, the incapacity which dogs some men throughout all their life? They bare never seen our first principle--that life itself is a gift, the outgoing of God’s heart of love, and therefore a something to be used in His service and for His glory. Love seeks a return, lives in hope of such; and God endows us with life, that we may love Him. But our love to Him cannot be created by coercion or stern exaction from without; it must be the free, glad utterance of obedient hearts. The task which our love to God has to face is that of penetrating and subduing every force and faculty of our nature with its own sweet influence, of bringing every thought, in apostolic phrase, “into captivity to the law of Christ.” As Mazzini, the Italian patriot once said, “Life is a mission, and duty a supreme law.” There is no grander conception of man than that he is God’s missionary. We are called to a kingly mission. That is, one essential element of God’s ideal of man is that he shall rule himself, that he shall check with firm reign every lawless appetite, that he shall bring all the manifold energies of his being into subjection to a governing central authority. And what He wants He performs if we are but willing. If we receive Him into our hearts, He will engift us with a kingly power by emancipating us from selfish aims, and degrading fears, and petty motives, that make life such a mean and commonplace thing. But Christ calls us to a priestly mission as well. To have a well-disciplined soul is a good thing. To know that all its powers are working harmoniously together under the central sway of the man himself is something worth aiming at. But Christ beckons us to a higher privilege still. The man whose spirit is thus well ordered, whose intellect and affections are balanced by a ready will and a tender conscience, is to consecrate himself and all his powers to God. A self-discipline that never can get beyond itself is at heart utterly selfish. The ages in our own history most fruitful of good, most full of the heroic element, were ages when the consciousness of men was saturated with the thought of God. The Reformation era which could produce a Luther, a Knox, a Zwingle, a Calvin, the Puritan age which could create a Cromwell, a Baxter, a Milton, a Bunyan, were times when the name of God had not become a theological phrase, but vital realities, unseen, but all-powerful, in living relation with the practical interests of man.
II. LIFE IS A DIVINE DISCIPLINE. When we are asked to believe in life as an effluence or product of Divine love, we are brought face to face with serious difficulties that seem to bar the way to faith. If God loves me, as you say, and has, therefore, bestowed upon me the gift of life, how is it that He has marred His gift by pain and loss and grief; has turned for me what might have been a blessing into what is little less than a curse? I have read somewhere that Christ’s earthly life is far from being an ideal one, because it was essentially sorrowful. But I ask, is not this the secret of its undying charm for men, that it meets them in the greatest crisis of their history, when the brain is stunned with grief, and the heart pierced with sore trials, and life stands forth, bare and gaunt, as a terrible tragedy? Viewing life, then, as having sorrow for its pervading element, our faith in a God of love can be saved only by extending our vision beyond the boundaries of the present, by seeing that our calling and privileges and opportunities now form a discipline to prepare us for a grander and truer life hereafter. Here, again, it may be seen how a pessimistic way of thinking often takes its rise. To put aside the revelation which Christ makes to us of the future, is to shut men up to despair, unrelieved by a single gleam of light. Admit that revelation, however, and though all difficulties are not thereby removed, yet feeling so many to be mitigated, we can bear the rest until the day of clearer light and fuller knowledge. Now, this mitigation may be seen in two ways.
1. Discipline is a test of character. When God wishes to bring a man to see himself, to disentangle him, as it were, from the disguises which he is prone to wear before his fellow-men, He does it perhaps, by suddenly throwing upon him responsibilities of which he had never dreamt, or, perhaps, by confronting trim with an emergency that demands quick resolution and determined effort. It is then that what is most real in the man comes out. The weakness or strength of character is seen in how it meets the Divine test. God has many ways of effecting this self-revelation. Just as a lightning flash at midnight reveals in a moment the Wooded height or rocky foreland which the murky darkness had concealed, so do the great crises of life unveil, as with the mystic touch of God, the basis of character, the things that have made it what it is. Is it an accession to sudden fortune? A favourable discipline surely! Yet have we not heard of cases where men, intoxicated by the new power that has come to them, have forgotten the simple virtues of their former state, and have become slaves to pride and selfishness, and a hundred other evils? Is it poverty? Then it may be God’s design to test whether the graces and virtues so conspicuous in times of comfort were real or not. In these various ways does God test us. But through them all there is a unity of purpose--the taking of us out of the pretences and make-believes of the world, and the planting of us on the eternal realities of the unseen.
2. Discipline is indispensable to the realisation of the Divine Ideal. We all start in life with grand aims. Our ideals are fair and lovely to look upon. And in the joy which a vision of them creates we think we have but to stretch forth our hands and they are ours. But soon we discover our mistake. Contact with the prosaic realities of the world, or the pressure of unforeseen difficulties and hindrances, soon dashes our enthusiasm with an element of distrust, and the “vision splendid” is in danger of fading into the “light of common day.” Not thus, nor so quickly, is our dream to be translated into the region of solid fact. It is only by a baptism of the “spirit of burning” that our highest modes of thought can be cleansed from the self-reference or self-pleasing which is so liable to vitiate them. God’s ideal is very different from man’s, even at the best. Is not this an important part of our life work?--to see how poor and cramped our noblest spiritual creations are when compared with the archetypal thoughts of God. And this we can never see except through discipline. If to obtain a knowledge of the material world and its laws men will spend days and nights of anxious labour, surely it ought not to be considered strange if the supreme possession of the soul, God Himself, cannot be won without at least some spiritual struggle. It is a familiar fact that things of earthly value which are easily purchased are lightly esteemed. Is it not so in the spiritual region? (J. A. Anderson.)
The brevity of life
“What is your life?” There is a variety of answers to that question. The afflicted might say, “My life is a wearisome burden; when shall I lay it down in the grave?” The labourer might say, “My life is a dull round of toil; I rise early, and late take rest, and eat the bread of carefulness.” The prosperous might say, “My life is a continued joy; I cannot exaggerate its felicity; flowers strew my path, and overhead the skies are blue. I have sunshine within and without.” But the apostle has his answer to the question; and remember that if it is melancholy, it is of God--it is God’s own estimate of human life, “It is even a vapour,” &c. Thisbeing so, shall we not ask what is the best improvement of this “little time,” or, in other words, what is God’s design willing it to us?
I. IT IS THE SEASON OF REPENTANCE. By nature we are sinful, abhorrent, therefore, to God’s infinite purity, and devoid of righteousness. We must be brought to admit our vileness, our obnoxiousness to Divine justice, our dishonouring of God, our deep need of pardon. And life is the season for this repentance. It is protracted by the compassion of God for this very purpose.
II. IT IS YOUR SEASON OF GRACE--the period in which you may obtain forgiveness, together with a new heart and a heavenly hope.
III. IT IS THE SEASON FOR SELF-CULTURE. Have you no ambition to grow and mature and excel in piety? Do you not wish to be adorned and beautified, and enriched before you are summoned into the presence of the
King of kings? Would you not be arrayed for that call in bridal garments which shall “smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces”? Is it not so that you have a great field within you, which you are to plough, and plant, and cultivate for God, till it shall be ripe unto the harvest?
IV. IT IS THE SEASON FOR USEFULNESS. Let us endeavour to throw more energy and enterprise into our Master’s service this year.
1. Resolve that a New Year shall be distinguished by new resolutions.
Wherever you feel you have been deficient, there hasten to repair the breach; there determine that, God assisting you, you will do better for the future.
2. Be a practical Christian this New Year. “Be zealous,” not so much of good intentions and of good frames, as of “good works.”
3. Be a cheerful Christian throughout this New Year. The renewed man has sources of joy which external circumstances cannot cloud or quench.
4. Be ready for your removal hence. There can be no solid serenity until we have looked death in the face, and overcome it by faith. (James Bolton, B. A.)
Human life transitory
I. How MEN MAKE THE MISTAKE OF REGARDING THEIR LIFE AS SOMETHING SOLID AND STABLE.
1. Men calculate upon the certain continuance of their strength. The young generally seem to look upon diseases and infirmities as separated from them by an impassable gulf.
2. Men calculate upon an indefinite prolonging of life. They make no deliberate, serious calculation upon giving up friends, possessions, comforts, occupations, and pleasures.
3. The next life will much resemble this, according to their ideas. They forget that after death comes the judgment.
II. HUMAN LIFE IS A VAPOUR.
1. The uncertainty of life. Nothing is stable on this earth. Our cemeteries vie with our cities. Every day, every hour, every moment, a life is escaping. You may be attired for the gayest scene, awaiting a friend, securely seated at your father’s fireside, and in an instant be in the fierce and fiery embrace of death, exchanging your rich garments for a winding-sheet of flame, breathing in an atmosphere of fire; in an instant, unwarned, unattended, unaided--gone.
2. This law is universal. That is, it is not only certain that every human life will cease, but that the time of its cessation is uncertain. There is a place, and a most important place, for medical science; a place for human prudence; but neither skill nor prudence will change the nature of every human life; it will still be “even a vapour.”
III. How SHALL WE RECTIFY THESE ERRORS IN OURSELVES?
1. We should understand the reality of the case. Life with us is but a process of decay. We possess life, but not less certainly are we losing it.
2. We should become entirely reconciled to it. The higher views we take of man, the more satisfied we shall be with this arrangement.
3. Accommodate all your views, feelings, and plans to this state of things. Make nothing that can perish the foundation of your hope. Money, the favour of man, the admiration of man, worldly pleasure, personal accomplishments (other than holiness and sound knowledge) are all vapour. Enjoy them as you do a beautiful sunset. Take them at their real worth; but be fully persuaded that your happiness must come from higher, and holier, and more unfailing sources. Value life for its highest ends. It can be the period of your personal progress in the life of holiness and heaven; the seedtime for an eternal harvest of blessedness. (E. N. Kirk, D. D.)
“What is your life?”
Life comes to us so unconsciously, and lifts and drifts us on so easily, that we yield ourselves to its power without a thought--fools that we are! What is this power to which we surrender so unquestionably? What guarantee have we of its friendliness? What is this stream on which we drift so heedlessly? How do we know over what precipices it may hurl us? What is this life which we accept without scrutiny? Who has certified to its character? How can we tell to what a grand folly we are committing ourselves, or into what maelstrom of difficulty and distress we are permitting ourselves to be drawn? The fact that the great human mass about us moves on with us on the same mysterious tide, does not meet the difficulty, but increases it. Life takes on new magnitudes; but its meaning grows no plainer. The question which goes doubtfully forth from the solitary soul comes thundering back with the voice of the multitude which no man can number: “What is your life?”
I. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE AS TO ITS DURATION? HOW much of this mysterious something, which you call time, is portioned out to you as your part? This is the question of prudence. The first thing that a man asks respecting a possession is: “How much is there of it?” If life were an estate, you would instantly inquire: “What are its boundaries?” If years were sovereigns, you would say, “How many of them may I have?” Life is an estate, but its bounds are invisible. Years are the golden coinage of heaven; and they are counted out to men. Each man shall have his number, and no more, but what number he cannot tell. The counting is done in another sphere, and no mortal ever overheard it.
II. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE AS TO ITS SECURITY? This seems to have been the shape in which the apostle here intended to put it. “For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” The Scriptures have thrown around human life a marvellous imagery to intimate this evanescence. “Behold Thou hast made my days as an handbreadth.’ Not even so substantial as a vapour; not even a substance at all; only the shadow of something; and that something, that shadow, passing quickly away. Can anything be more transitory than that? If it comes to that, our question is strangely answered. What is our life as to its security? It is nothing. It has no security, and can have none.
III. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE AS TO ITS AIM, ITS PURPOSE, ITS USES? If it be so brief, so much the more reason for improving it while it lasts. If it be so insecure and evanescent, so much the more reason for making the most of it. What do you make of it? What great purpose have you set before yourself, for the accomplishment of which you are laying hold of all life’s opportunities, and putting under contribution all of life’s forces? A great, wise man, a few years ago, chanced to be present at a winter-evening party where a company of lively young people were enjoying themselves after an innocent fashion. Standing a little apart, he watched, in thoughtful, but not in cynical or unsympathetic mood, the whirl and flutter of sportive life before him. Presently, a young girl, hovering a moment on the outer verge of the gay circle, stopped to exchange salutations with the venerable guest. And the merry creature, radiant with smiles, steeped with the festive spirit of the hour, won from the old man’s lips the great thought which he had been revolving: “What are you living for?” The question, friendly in spirit and in tone, came to her in no impertinence, but it sounded through and through her soul. It followed her to her home. It repeated itself to her day and night. It announced to her the great problem of life. She met it honestly. She made room for it in her heart. She sought a fitting answer to it, and not many weeks later she could say, “I am living for Christ and for heaven.” What answer does our daily life afford? What do our acts declare that we are living for? I fear that a just analysis of our life would put some of us to the blush. Let me propound a riddle. There is a certain being a day of whose existence may be thus described. He sleeps--rises--eats--does nothing--eats--does nothing--eats--does nothing--sleeps. Is it an oyster or a man? There are those who have higher employments and pleasures, the analysis of whose life would reveal a strange emptiness. They read. What? and with what purpose? and to what profit? They converse. About what? To what end? They enjoy society. On what account? Isn’t the record a pretty meagre one, after all, even with some of us who have thought that we were living quite rationally and worthily?
IV. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE IN GOD’S CONCEPTION OF IT? Take that question home to your soul, and see what answer is there. Your soul tells you that it was not made to serve the body, or to stoop to any bondage whatever, or to any ignoble purpose. It tells you that it was made to rule, and by its higher nature give the rule to life, and through its higher perceptions to reach God’s rule of life. When men meet on the ocean, they ask each other: “Whither bound?” and the man who was bound no whither would be a prodigy of folly. Sailing is a vague purpose without a port in view. But with a heavenward aim and movement, life becomes something angelic. “I’ve lost a day l” said a great sovereign, of whom a poet has written that he “had been a king without his crown.” If it be royal to perceive the worth of time, after it is squandered, how much more to perceive its worth beforehand, and not squander it! If the utterance of such a regret were equal to a coronation, how sadly discrowned and ashamed, on the contrary, shall be he who shall be constrained to lament at last: “I’ve lost my life!” (G. Huntington.)
Estimates of life
I. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE IN DURATION?
II. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE IN ITS SECURITY?
III. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE IN ITS OBJECTS?
IV. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE IN ITS INFLUENCE ON YOURSELF? In a higher and far more fearful sense than the ancient artist, every one of us is “painting for eternity”--painting, each his own portrait, stroke by stroke, and line by line. And soon the image shall be finished, and hung up for our own gaze, and for the inspection of the universe--every part of it to grow brighter and brighter, or darker and darker for ever.
V. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE IN ITS RESPONSIBILITIES? Every object, every influence of life, implies responsibility. Every moment is inwoven with obligation to God and to your own soul.
VI. WHAT WILL YOUR LIFE BE IN ITS RESULTS? God has left it to your choice whether you will make it the pathway to salvation or perdition.
Religion is the art of living well for Christ and like Him. Three things are essential.
I. A RIGHT PURPOSE. The highest purpose is to serve God and benefit our fellow-men.
II. A RIGHT PRINCIPLE. The only principle that can hold is a conscience illuminated by the Bible and kept strong by inward grace. No one is to be trusted who does not trust God and obey Him.
III. A RIGHT PLAN. NO life is well planned which despises small things, or neglects every opportunity to strike. One rotten thread spoils a fabric. A life without Christ is a lost life. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
“What is your life?”
The question may be asked in many tones. It may be asked rebuking]y, pensively, comfortingly. There is no doubt as to how the question was asked by the apostle. He was taking a rather humbling view of life. He tells the boasting programme-writers that their life “is even a vapour.” Thus would James have us religious in everything. He would have no loose talk about to-morrow; in the very midst of our boasting he rebukes us by telling us that we are handling a vapour. That is no doubt the immediate apostolic suggestion. Yet may we not use the words on a larger base, and for another yet not wholly unkindred purpose? May we not read the suggestion in another tone? What is life?--what a mystery, what a tragedy, what a pain, what a feast, what a fast, what a desert, what a paradise; how abject, how august is man! It may not have occurred to some of you, as it has of necessity occurred to those of us who have to address the public, that there is hardly a more appalling and pathetic spectacle than a promiscuous congregation. We do not see life in its individuality, but life in its combinations and inter-relations of most delicate, subtle, suggestive, and potential kind. When we begin to take the congregation man by man, what a sight it is! The old and the very young, the pilgrim going to lay his staff down, tired of the long journey, and the little child sitting on its mother’s knee; the rich man whose touch is gold; the poor man whose most strenuous effort is his most stinging disappointment; men who are doomed to poverty! men who never had a holiday; if they were absent a day it was that they might work two days when they went back again; and men who have never been out of the sunshine, before whose sweet homes there slopes a velvet lawn. What is your life? Then, if we go a little further into the matter, the audience becomes still more mysterious and solemn. What broken hearts are in every congregation, what concealed experiences, what smiles of dissimulation! as who should say, We are happy, yes, we are happy, we are happy. The protestation is its own contradiction. There is a protesting too much. If we go a little further into the matter, who can read his congregation through and through? Men are not what they seem. Every man has his own secret; the heart knoweth its own bitterness. Man is a mystery to himself, to others--mostly to himself. The only power that can touch all these is the gospelof Christ. No lecturer upon any limited subject can touch a whole congregation through in all its deepest and most painful and tragic experiences. No lecturer on astronomy can search the heart. Science holds no candle above the chamber of motive, passion, deepest, maddest desire. The gospel of Christ covers the whole area. How does it cover the whole area of human experience? First as a hope. Blessed be God, that is a gospel word. Christianity does not come down to men with judgment and fire and burning; the gospel is not an exhibition of wrath, retaliation, vengeance: the gospel is love, the gospel says to the worst of us, For you there is hope; I know you, I know all the fire that burns in you, all the temptations that assail you, all the difficulties that surround you as with insurmountable granite walls; I know them all, and, poor soul, I have come with good news from God, good news from Calvary; I have come to say, Hope on, for there is a way to reconciliation and pardon and purity and peace. Then the gospel comes covering the whole area not only as a hope but as a cooperation. If we might personify the case, the gospel would thus address man: I have come not only to tell you to hope, but I have come to help you to do so; the work is very hard, and I will do most of it; what you have to show is a willing heart, an earnest disposition, and, come now, together we shall work out this salvation of yours. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you, with you, for you; we are fellow labourers with God. And then there is a third consideration, without which the case would be incomplete. Christianity, or the gospel, is not only a hope, or a co-operation, but it is a discipline. You always come upon the strong word in a great appeal. It is not all tears; you come upon the backbone, upon the line of iron, upon the base of rock. So the gospel comes to us as a discipline and says, Having, then, dearly beloved, these promises, let us purify ourselves, even as God and Christ are pure; now for work, self-criticism, self-restraint, self-control, now for patient endeavour. Cheer thee! It is a gospel word. Gospel calls mean gospel helps. Who knows what life is? It is the secret of God. Up and down the mountains and valleys of the soul there are countless millions of germs waiting for the sunshine, and the dew, and all the chemistry of the spiritual universe, and out of these germs will come invention, discoveries, new policies, novel and grand suggestions, heroisms undreamt-of, evangelisations, and civilisations that shall eclipse the proudest record of time. Every evil thought you have kills one of these germs. What is life? A mystery, seed-house, a sensitive treasure. What is life? It is the beginning of immortality. The dawn is the day--the child is the man. It is high time to awake out of sleep and to realise the tragedy, the grandeur, and the responsibility of life. He who loses time loses eternity. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Shortness of life
A little girl was asked why she was working so very hard. She replied, “My candle is almost burned out, and I have not got another.” Life is as a candle burning out. Sometimes there is a thief in it, a disease consuming it more quickly; or it may be blown out, suddenly extinguished; and we have not got another. (Dr. Wise.)
Changes in life
So have I seen a rose newly springing from the clefts of its hood, and at first it was fair as the morning and full with the dew of heaven, as a lamb’s fleece; but when a rude blast had forced open its virgin modesty and dismantled its too youthful and unripe retirements, it began to put on darkness, and to decline to softness and the symptoms of a sickly age; it bowed the head and broke its stalk; and at night, having lost some of its leaves and all its beauty, it fell into the portion of weeds and wornout faces. The same is the portion of every man and every woman. (Bp. Jeremy Taylor.)
The possibilities of life
It was no part of the apostle’s intention to teach that life is necessarily vain and perishing; he suggests that life is what we make it, accordingly as we live to the “outer man” which “perisheth,” or to “the inward man” which “is renewed day by day.”
I. “A vapour”--“YET A VAPOUR MAY BE A THING OF GLORY OR GLOOM. A vapour is often an object of glory, of richest glory. The firmament is the Royal Academy of God, glorified with countless masterpieces of form and colour. The transfiguring touch of the Divine hand changes the pliant vapour into rich sculptures, superb architecture and pictures of matchless grace or grandeur. The “vapour that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away,” is a fountain of perennial delight to poet and painter: it calls up our thought to the glory of heaven, to the glory of God. A vapour may also be a cloud--dense, dark, and forbidding. It may obscure the light, discolour the sky, mar the summer. Thus with human life--it also may be a thing of glory or gloom. Some lives are as the cloud which lies on the sky, an inky blot; whilst other lives in their brightness and beauty remind us of those rainbow tints which are very jewels on heaven’s bosom. What makes the difference in the vapour? The sun. The orb of day dyes the vapours with colour, warms them with fire, illuminates them with brightness, and fills the depths with shifting scenes of splendour. What the sun is to the vapour, God is to our life; and life shines or saddens according to its relation to Him. “The Lord God is a sun”; and our lives shine--everything in us and about us shines--just as we keep in the stream of His brightness. Acquaintance with God gives life its purity. The vapour apart from the sun is foul and dark; but as the light pierces it, it becomes “white as white wool,” “white as snow.” As we set the Lord God before us and live in fellowship with Him the baser elements of life are purged, and we attain that purity of heart which is the condition of all joy and glory. In the identification of ourselves with God life acquires sublimity. And through the knowledge and service of God life attains fruition in full felicity. The sunless vapour is that murky weeping cloud which is the chosen image of misery, whilst the sun-smitten vapour spreads a smile on the face of day. Life so strangels sad in itself kindles into rapture as it drinks the light of the Throne.
II. “A vapour”--AND YET A VAPOUR MAY BE THE SOURCE OF BARRENNESS OR BLESSING. Indeed a vapour may be one of three things. It may be the source of blasting, as the sulphurous vapour of the thundercloud. This is true of some lives; they are only pernicious and destructive. Or the vapour may be a merely barren thing. Not working any particular and obvious mischief, only drifting before the wind in barren magnificence. Thus is it with many lives. Men live for garish pride, or rosy pleasure, or golden gain, or crimson greatness; the earth is no better for their presence, they work no private or public service. Or the vapour may be a source of rich and lasting blessing; the messenger of God, scattering showers of blessing. Thus devoted souls pass through society rich in precious and holy influence; they drop as the rain and distil as the dew, and when they have passed out of sight you trace their passage by the rising flowers. If life is to be noble and blessed it must not be hurtful, not neutral, but beneficent. Many of those passages which so pathetically express the transientness of life, and which we quote with extreme mournfulness, have quite another side to them, and it is well to turn them round and refresh ourselves with their sunnier significance. Job has many of these metaphors. “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle” (Job 7:6). Hours, days, weeks, months, years pass with confusing rapidity; and we are apt to infer that little can be done or attempted with such conditions. Are we not mistaken here? Swift is the action of the weaver’s shuttle, yet each rapid movement *nay fix a thread of silk or gold which shall keep its beauty for ages in royal robe or tapestry. Thus each fleeting moment may see some shining thread shot into the world’s raiment or ours, if we are only wise workers in the loom of life. “O remember that my life is wind” (Job 7:7). A breath, a passing breeze! And yet the vanishing breath may utter great thoughts and kind words to the joy and purifying of multitudes. The passing breeze will freshen the stagnant flood, lift the unhealthy fog, awaken music in the stirred branches, and fill the whole landscape with animation and freshness; thus a human life may pass as the wind, leaving the whole face of the community refreshed and vitalised. Our life may be wind, yet may it be one with that mighty rushing wind which came down at Pentecost, sweetening the world. “My days … are passed away as the swift ships” (Job 9:26). Yes, but what treasures the swift ships bring; what treasures the swift ships take! So is it with the “ships of reed”--these frail, swift human lives of ours. What treasures these swift ships bring! They come from God freighted with riches of intellect, feeling, utterance, to enrich and rejoice the world. What treasures these swift ships take! Rich results of sanctified sorrow, of spiritual industry, of high duty bravely done, of years of consecrated toil and thought, of pain and blessing, of faith and love and prayer. We grieve to see the white sails vanishing like white wings into the infinite blue; but we must not forget that these weather-stained argosies--built in the noon and rigged with blessings bright--have steered straight into port with mystic treasures which “wax not old,” “eternal in the heavens.” Finally, take the figure in our text: “A. vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” Life escapes us like melting mist, and we see it vanish with amazement and distress. Still the vanishing vapour leaves beautiful and lasting effects. Whence the green pasture, the leaf-robed forestry, the rich vineyard, the bowing wealth of corn, the orchards full of ripeness? Are they not all the offspring of vapours that appear “for a little time, and then vanish away”? So the world of noble things and institutions about us--the wilderness blossoming as the rose--is the result of short lives inspired by holy feeling, devoted to high ends.
III. “A vapour”--YET A VAPOUR MAY END IN A DRAIN OR A RAINBOW. So widely contrasted is the destiny of that self-determining vapour human life. In the text we see men living without any recognition of the relation of this life to immortality. Giving themselves to life on its physical and human side, they lose all clearness and brightness of soul, the stream ever becoming more turbid as it flows (Luke 12:16-21). This man’s lifo ran in the gutter, and ended in the sewer. It is whilst we regard these fleeting days in their relation to the will of God that we penetrate their grandeur and become conscious of exaltation (Deuteronomy 30:20; 1 John 2:16-17). It is whilst we regard the eternal meaning of life that all the discipline of this world develops greatness and purity of spirit (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). The legend of the American Indians declares that as the flowers fade in forest and prairie their lost beauty is gathered into the rainbow, and thus they glow again in richer colour than before. It is, however, no legend which teaches the perpetuity of moral excellence. The earth is always being made the poorer by the departure of those whom we so sincerely admired or passionately loved--those who were ornaments of society, the pride of the Church, the light of our home. Rut these are neither lost nor injured. We look up to see them shine forth again in added grace and glory in the rainbow round about the Throne. Let us live in constant acknowledgment of God; let us, so far from accommodating ourselves to the fashion of a world which passeth away, identify ourselves with the will of God; let us thoroughly realise our sonship with God, our heirship of heaven; so shall we feel that we are being purified from every grossness, float we are being caught up to meet the Lord in the air, that we are becoming transfigured members in that ring of glory of which the Lord God and the Lamb are the eternal centre. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Life precious because brief
The brevity of life enhances its preciousness. A prudent man, who has only a few shillings to spend, will be careful to lay out not only every shilling, but every fraction of a shilling, to the best advantage. And these few days that God gives us are too valuable to he trifled away. More precious than rubies, they ought to be turned to the very best account.
If the Lord will, we shall live
Man’s life and God’s providence
I. HUMAN LIFE.
1. The period of its duration. It is a little time, but it bears a never-ending relationship to eternity. Let us, therefore, improve the precious gift; it will soon be gone, and will never return. Let us look upon our days as so many valuable gifts which God puts into our hands, which we must part with, and which we may exchange, one after the other, so long as they last, for something which shall enrich us for ever.
2. The incidents of which man’s life is composed. We “go into such a city, continue there a year, and buy and sell and get gain.” Alas! this completely describes the lives of multitudes among us; their journeyings, sojournings, tradings, and gains--and that is all! Some of us do not even come up to that. I mean those who spend their lives in killing time without wink. But life is made up of much more than these. What have we received?” Goodness and mercy have followed us,” etc. What return have we made for so much mercy? Alas! much of forgetfulness, indolence, murmuring, unbelief, and rebellion. “We are unprofitable servants.” What do we now possess? We have not been buying and selling, or losing, or getting gain only. “With all our getting” have we “got understanding”? Have we a more thorough, abiding conviction of the evil of sin? Have we felt a more searching, heart-aching repentance for it--a repentance which leads to the entire forsaking of it?
II. DIVINE PROVIDENCE IN RELATION TO HUMAN LIFE.
1. Our dependence upon it. Whether we know and feel it, or otherwise, we are dependent upon God. Sometimes He makes us know it. Our path is “hedged up,” our best, wisest schemes fail, and we are suffered to want. And what a mercy that ultimately we are dependent not on bad men, or even good ones, but upon God! Let us look beyond second causes to the providence of God in the changes which are passing in the Church of God, and its associations.
2. Our ignorance of what the Divine providence will accomplish. “Ye know not what shall be on the morrow.” (T. E. Thoresby.)
The duty of reference to the Divine will
I. MANKIND NATURALLY DO NOT FEEL AND ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR DEPENDENCE UPON THEIR MAKER. How few possess the spirit of the patriarchs, who were bold as lions provided that God led the way, but timid as lambs when they could not see His footsteps. Many men rely upon second causes, and never fall back upon the great First Cause. They calculate upon a long life, because they inherit a good constitution; they expect a successful issue of their plans, because they are regarded by others as shrewd and far-reaching men. In each of these instances the dependence is placed upon something this side of God.
II. THE IGNORANCE AND FRAILTY OF MAN IS A STRONG REASON WHY HE SHOULD FEEL HIS DEPENDENCE UPON HIS MAKER.
1. Respect to all beings and things alike, be they finite or be they infinite, men must say, “We see through a glass darkly, and we know in part.”
2. Again, man’s knowledge is limited by lime, as well as by the nature of objects. His knowledge of the present is imperfect, and he has no knowledge at all of the future. Is not this ignorance of ours a strong reason why we should rely upon the all-knowing God? Though we know nothing in an exhaustive and perfect manner, yet we are not shut up to the unhappiness that would result from such a sense of ignorance if unrelieved by other considerations. If man would consciously live, move, and have his being in God, he would be filled with a cheerful sense of security, firmness, and power, amidst the violent and rapid changes incident to this life, and the dark mystery that overhangs it. “He that trusteth in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, that cannot be moved.”
3. Again, the brevity and uncertainty of human life is another strong reason why man should feel his dependence upon God.
III. THE PROPER WAY FOR MEN TO ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR DEPENDENCE UPON GOD IS TO REFER TO HIS WILL, IN ALL THEIR PLANS AND UNDERTAKINGS. Most of our misery, nay, all of it, arises from our asserting our own wills. The instant we yield the point, and submit to our Maker, we are at rest. And this is proof that we are free, for wherever there is any compulsion, there is dissatisfaction and restlessness. (G. T. Shedd, D. D.)
God’s will about the future
The text applies with very peculiar force when our friends and fellow-workers are passing away from us. Perhaps we have been reckoning what this brother would do this week, and that sister next week, and so on. They have appeared amongst us in such buoyant health that we have scarcely thought it possible that they would be struck down all in a moment. Yet so it has often been. The uncertainty of life comes home to us when such things occur, and we begin to wonder that we have reckoned anything at all safe, or even probable, in such a shifting, changing world as this.
I. COUNTING ON THE FUTURE IS FOLLY. The fact of frail, feeble man so proudly ordering his own life and forgetting God seems to the Apostle James so preposterous that he scarcely deems it worth while to argue the point; he only says, “Go to now!” Let us first look at the form of this folly, and notice what it was that these people said when they were counting on the future. They evidently thought everything was at their own dispersal. They said, “We will go, we will continue, we will buy, we will sell, we will get gain.” but is it not foolish for a man to feel that he can do as he likes, and that everything will fall out as he desires; that he can both propose and dispose, and has not to ask God’s consent at all? Is it so, O man, that thy life is self-governed? Is there not, after all, One greater than thyself? Notice that these people, while they thought everything was at their disposal, used everything for worldly objects. They said, “We will buy; then we will carry our goods to another market at a little distance; we will sell at a profit; and so we will get gain.” Their first and their last thoughts were of the earth earthy, and their one idea seemed to be that they might get sufficient to make them feel that they were rich and increased in goods. That was the highest ambition upon their minds. Are there not many who are living just in that way now? All that these men of old spoke of doing was to be done entirely in their own strength. They said, “We will, we will.” They had no thought of asking the Divine blessing, nor of entreating the help of the Most High. Alas, that men should do even so to-day, that, without seeking counsel of God, they should go forward in proud disdain, or in complete forgetfulness of “the arrow that flieth by day,” and “the pestilence that walketh in the darkness,” until they are suddenly overwhelmed in eternal ruin! It is evident that to these men everything seemed certain. “We will go into such a city.” How did they know they would ever get there?” We will buy and sell, and get gain.” Did they regulate the markets? Might there be no fall in prices? Oh, no! they looked upon the future as a dead certainty, and upon themselves as people who were sure to win, whatever might become of others. They had also the foolish idea that they were immortal. “All men count all men mortal but themselves.” Without any saving clause, they said, “We will continue there a year.” Having looked at the form of this folly of counting on the future, let us speak a little on the folly itself. It is a great folly to build hopes on that which may never come. It is unwise to count your chickens before they are hatched; it is madness to risk everything on the unsubstantial future. How do we know what will be on the morrow? How can we reckon upon an) thing in a world like this, where nothing is certain but uncertainty? Besides, the folly is seen in the frailty of our lives, and the brevity of them. Life is even as a vapour. Sometimes those vapours, especially at the time of sunset, are exceedingly brilliant. They seem to be magnificence itself when the sun paints them with heavenly colours; but in a little while they are all gone, and the whole panorama of the sunset has disappeared. Such is our life. It may sometimes be very bright and glorious; but still it is only like a painted cloud, and very soon the cloud and the colour on it are alike gone.
II. IGNORANCE OF THE FUTURE IS A MATTER OF FACT. “Ye know not what shall be on the morrow.” Whether it will come to us laden with sickness or health, prosperity or adversity, we cannot tell. To-morrow may mark the end of our life; possibly even the end of the age. How frail is our hold on this world! In a moment we are gone--gone like the moth; you put your finger upon it, and it is crushed. Man is not great; man is less than little. He is as nothing; he is but a dream. Ere he can scarcely say that he is here, we are compelled to say that he is gone.
III. RECOGNITION OF GOD WITH REGARD TO THE FUTURE IS TRUE WISDOM. I do not think that we need always, in every letter and in every handbill, put “If the Lord will”; yet I wish that we oftener used those very words. I rather like what Fuller says when he describes himself as writing in his letter such passages as “God willing,” or “God lending me life.” He says, “I observe, Lord, that I can scarcely hold my hand from encircling these words in a parenthesis, as if they were not essential to the sentence, but may as well be left out as put in. Whereas, indeed, they are not only of the commission at large, but so of the quorum, that without them all the rest is nothing; wherefore, hereafter, I will write these words freely and fairly, without any enclosure about them. Let critics censure it for bad grammar, I am sure it is good divinity.”
1. We should recognise God in the affairs of the future, because, first, there is a Divine will which governs all things.
2. But while many of God’s purposes are hidden from us, there is a revealed will which we must not violate. I say now, “I will do this or that,” but certain other things may occur which will render it improper for me to do so.
3. In addition to this, there is a providential will of God which we should always consult. When you come where two roads meet, in your perplexity pull up, kneel down, and lift your hearts to heaven, asking your Father the way. And whenever we are purposing what we should do--and we ought to make some purposes, for God’s people are not to be without forethought or prudence--we should always say, or mean without saying,
“All my plans must wait till the Lord sets before me an open door. If God permit, I will do this; but if the Lord will, I will stop, and do nothing. My strength shall be to sit still, unless the Master wishes me to go forward.”
4. There is yet another sense I would give to this expression: there is a royal will which we would seek to fulfil. That will is that the Lord’s people should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. So, as the servants of the Most High, we go forth to do this or that, “if the Lord will”--that is to say, if by so doing we can fulfil the great will of God in the salvation of men.
IV. BOASTINGS ABOUT THE FUTURE ARE EVIL. One man says about a certain matter, “I will do it, I have made up my mind,” and he thinks, “You cannot turn me; I am a man who, when he has once put his foot down, is not to be shifted from his place.” Then he laughs, and prides himself upon the strength of his will; but his boasting is sheer arrogance. Yet he rejoices in it; and the Word of God is true of such a one: “All such rejoicing is evil.” Another man says, “I shall do it, the thing is certain”; and when a difficulty is suggested, he answers, “Tut, do not tell me about my proposing and God’s disposing; I will propose, and I will also dispose; I do not see any difficulty. I shall carry it out, I tell you. I shall succeed.” Then he laughs in his foolish pride, and rejoices in his proud folly. All such rejoicings are evil. I hear a third man say, “I can do it; I feel quite competent.” To him the message is the same--his boasting is evil. Though he thinks to himself, “Whatever comes in my way, I am always ready for it,” he is greatly mistaken, and errs grievously. But that young man yonder talks in a different tone. He has been planning what he will do when he succeeds; for, of course, he is going to succeed. Well, I hope that he may. He is going to buy, and sell, and get gain; and he says, “I will do so-and-so when I am rich.” He intends then to have his fling, and to enjoy himself; he laughs as he thinks what he will do when his toilsome beginnings are over, and he can have his own way. I would ask him to pause and consider his life in a more serious vein: “All such rejoicing is evil.”
V. THE USING OF THE PRESENT IS OUR DUTY. “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
1. In the first place, it is sinful to defer obedience to the gospel. All the commands of God to the characters to whom they are given come as a present demand. Obey them now.
2. In the next place, it is sinful to neglect the common duties of life, under the idea that we shall do something more by and by. If we could all be quiet enough to hear that clock tick, we should hear it say “Now! now! now I now!” The clock therein resembles the call of God in the daily duties of the hour. “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin,” even though he may dream of hew he will, in years to come, make up for his present neglect.
3. Then it is sinful to postpone purposes of service. Mr. Whitefield said that he would not go to bed unless he had put even his gloves in their right place. If he should die in the night, he would not like to have anybody asking, “Where did he leave his gloves?” That is the way for a Christian man always to live--have everything in order, even to a pair of gloves, Finish up your work every night; nay, finish up every minute. I have this last word: “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin”--that is, it is sinful in proportion to our knowledge. If there is any brother here into whose mind God has put something fresh, something good, I pray him to translate it into action at once. “Oh, but nobody has done it before!” Somebody must be first, and why should not you be first if you are sure that it is a good thing, and has come into your heart through God the Holy Ghost? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“Much virtue in ‘if’” is the word of Touchstone in Shakespeare’s charming comedy “As You Like It.” Several times in Bible story the word comes out conspicuously. The Hebrew leader Joshua, going forth to fight the enemies of Israel, confesses his dependence, able to win no success except the Lord be with him. “If so be the Lord be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out.” In the hospitable home in Bethany the beloved brother Lazarus grew sick unto death. “If only Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” In numberless forms of lamentation, regret, trust, or hope, we encounter in the affairs of life an element of uncertainty expressed in the “word “if”--a little word, yet covering momentous issues and contingencies. Consider, then, the value of “if” as a demand for heroism and for trust. First, note some illustrations of its reality. Near Lake Chauoauqua, on the watershed dividing the northerly and southerly flowing waters, one may easily find a hill-top, or perhaps the roof-tree of some home, where the falling rains by a slight breath of air are swayed northward to the fountains and rills that flow into Lake Erie, and thence by the rivers Niagara and St. Lawrence to the everlasting ice of the North Pole, or southward into the Alleghany, Ohio, and Mississippi, to the tropics of eternal summer. So history flows in mighty currents whose beginnings seem slight enough to have been swayed by a breath of air. Imagination reconstructs the destinies of mankind by the change of an “if” at critical junctures. In every one of the sixteen decisive battles of the world, as narrated by the English historian Creasy, from Marathon and Cannae to Waterloo and Gettysburg, between the tremendous array of opposing hosts, victory hung trembling in the balance, and finally turned upon some contingency that changes the face of the world. In the early days of June, 1815, just preceding Waterloo, had Napoleon’s Marshal Grouchy gone north instead of east, thus preventing Blucher’s corps of Prussians from joining the British army, Napoleon might have annihilated Wellington, and the destinies of Europe been reversed for a century or for ever. In personal experience we also see the reality of the “if.” By a lightning flash that kills a loved companion at his side, Martin Luther is sent to the monastery and ministry, and becomes the heroic leader of Protestantism. Some chance exposure brings illness and death to parent, child, or dear friend, whose loss can never be replaced, and life is nevermore the same. Trivial circumstances, ordered by no special foresight, prove crises upon which our earthly fate seems utterly to depend. From personal experience and home histories we can all cull such incidents. How largely has the domestic happiness or infelicity of our whole home history depended upon the chance acquaintance of our youth! That we are here to-day in health and peace depends upon some one of a thousand contingencies, whose change might have reversed our destiny. Bitterly we mourn the untoward happenings, Fancy easily paints brighter pictures in our experience that might have come by some more favourable turn of our kaleidoscope. If only our childhood had been more favoured, and Heaven been in some way more indulgent, we imagine ourselves to-day nobler heroes and lovelier saints. Such, then, being the fact, what shall we say about it?
1. The pulpit boldly calls a halt on this strain of lamentation. The force of these minor contingencies is immensely exaggerated. The destinies of nations and men really depend upon deeper springs and broader streams of spirit and principle. Small events are only bubbles on the surface that show which way the stream flows. Some rocky headland at Lake Pepin may seem to direct the course of the mighty Mississippi, and so fix the map of North America. Do not mistakenly imagine that the rock creates the river. Rains, having fallen, are bound to find their way to the sea; and, whether on this side of the rock or the other, all the same they create the great Father of Waters. No if within the range of fate, but personality, rather, is the prime factor and supreme arbiter of destiny. Martin Luther had it in his soul to serve God and truth, or no companion’s death could have made him a religious leader. Many another had equal advantage. Not the lightning-bolt, but the forces of his manhood, achieved the conquest for liberty. Do not, then, exaggerate the petty contingencies. Some special exposure brings fatal illness to a loved child or friend. Look deeper, and see that the same exposure that others braved with impunity only revealed latent disease, and suddenly brought a crisis that was sure speedily to come. We deplore the overpowering temptation that blotted some fair name. Look deeper, and see that the temptation only exposed existing moral weakness. Oftentimes character creates the contingency. So many turns of an, electric cylinder, and the accumulating force, no longer to be pent up, flashes forth in an electric spark. There is no accident about that: it was sure to come. So much reckless violation of physical law, and the man breaks down. It is no arbitrary visitation or sudden accident. Years of offence are summed up and suddenly brought to judgment. But when at last iniquity launches its thunderbolt, do not call it accident or excuse it with an “if.” Know that it is simply the inevitable retribution, for a while postponed, but suddenly consummated--sins, long neglected, at last finding you out and summoning you to judgment.
2. While we would not exaggerate the “if,” whatever reality is in it offers a realm for fidelity and courage. The controlling “if” I would put far back and deep, down below and beyond the superficial “its” that delude us. Go back to the realm of character. In the hint-springs of destiny make pure and full the fountain-head, and all the contingencies that can possibly come will but open channels through which the pure waters of life may divinely flow. Foster the homes, schools, libraries, churches, and charities, build up true religion in the land, and no “if” that winds or fire or flood can bring can imperil our best prosperity. So likewise in personal life. Do not with vain lamentation exaggerate the small “its” of private experience. You cannot say whether the morrow shall be fair or foul, or bring good or ill fortune. But one can say, God helping me, I will divinely rule my spirit, the real key of destiny; and, come sunshine or storm, come fortune or failure, my temper shall be sweet, my integrity unsullied, my heart pure, my hands clean, and my manhood or womanhood supreme. Here is the sublime superiority of the human soul. Popular thought too strongly exaggerates the outward circumstance of environment, till unwittingly sin is excused and virtue paralysed, and man deemed a helpless bubble on the stream of fate. (R. R. Shippen.)
The providence of God and the providence of man
I. THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD.
1. The rule of it. His will--the origin and law of the universe. There is nothing higher than this; it is the force of all forces.
2. The sphere of it. It extends over all things--is co-extensive with the creation.
II. THE PROVIDENCE OF MAN.
1. That of the practical atheist.
(1) Purely selfish. “Buy and sell,” &c. No thought of God.
(2) Unreasonably presumptive. Because of the uncertainty and fleetness of life.
2. That of the practical theist. God is the central thought of all his providence. (Homilist.)
God’s will about the future
How do we know what will be on the morrow? It has grown into a proverb that we ought to expect the unexpected; for often the very thing happens which we thought would not happen. How can we reckon upon anything in a world like this, where nothing is certain but uncertainty? Besides, the folly is seen in the fact of the frailty of our lives, and the brevity of them. Why, then, is it that we are always counting upon what we are going to do? Why do we choose to build upon clouds, and pile our palaces on vapour, to see them melt away, as aforetime they have often melted, instead of by faith getting where there is no failure, where God is all in all, and His sure promises make the foundations of eternal mansions?
1. Only God knows the future. All things are present to Him; there is no past and no future to His all-seeing eyes. There are two great certainties about things that shall come to pass--one is that God knows, and the other is that we do not know.
2. As the knowledge of the future is hidden from us, we ought not to pry into it. Let the doom of King Saul on Mount Gilboa warn you against such a terrible course.
3. Further, we are benefited by our ignorance of the future. It is hidden from us for our good. Suppose a certain man is to be very happy by and by. If he knows it he will be discontented till the happy hour arrives. Suppose another man is to have a great sorrow very soon. It is well that he does not know it, for now he can enjoy the present good. He is wisest who does not wish to know what God has not revealed, Here, surely, ignorance is bliss: it would be folly to be wise.
4. Because we do not know what is to be on the morrow we should be greatly humbled by our ignorance. We think we are so wise; do we not? And we make a calculation that we are sure is correct! We arrange that this is going to be done, and the other thing; but God puts forth His little finger, and removes some friend, or changes some circumstance, and all our propositions fail to the ground.
5. Seeing that these things are so, we should remember the brevity, the frailty, and the end of life. We cannot be here long. If we live to the extreme age of men, how short our time is! We are glad that we do not know when our friends are to die; and we feel thankful that we cannot foretell when we shall depart out of this life. What good would it do us? Since He is with us, we are content to leave the ordering of our lives to His unerring wisdom. We ought, for every reason, to be thankful that we do not know the future; but, at any rate, we can clearly see that to count on it is fully, and that ignorance of it is.a matter of fact. Recognition of God with regard to the future is true wisdom. What says our text?” For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” No harm can come to you if you bow to God’s sovereign sway. Do you put yourselves entirely at God’s disposal? Are you really His, or have you kept back a bit of yourself from the surrender? You say, “We are not our own; we are bought with a price.” But do you really mean it? I am afraid that there is a kind of mortgage on some Christians. They have some part they must give, as they fancy, to their own aggrandisement. They are not all for Christ. “We will not buy, end we will not sell, unless we can glorify God by buying and selling; and we will not wish even for the honest gain that comes of trading unless we can be prorooting the will of God by getting it. Our best profit will consist in doing God’s will.” May this be your resolve, then. Let this clause, “If the Lord will,” be written across your life, and let us all set ourselves to the recognition of God in the future. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
“If the Lord will”
I. Here is DISSUASION FROM PRESUMPTION--from thoughtless, reckless confidence in the immediate future, in the year that is thought about, and in the self that is to make it so and so. When we look at the scheme of life they draw out, it is all planned and purposed as if they had absolute control over events, over other men, over themselves, almost over God. He is not needed. He is not to be consulted. “To-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city.” But are you sure you will reach it? What if the carriage in which you travel meets with some dreadful disaster? What if the vessel in which you sail should be suddenly wrapped in flames?
II. Let us look now at THE POSITIVE SIDE, although this has been of necessity involved in what we have said of the negative.
1. First comes a distinct realisation and acknowledgment of God. He who would spend a good year must begin it and go through it seeing God. “If the Lord will,” we ought to say--then of course there is a Lord God to will, and work, direct, watch, and keep.
2. Again, this passage teaches us that the Lord has a will in everything that enters into a man’s life. “If the Lord will.” That is what we are to say at all times, but with emphasis at the beginning of a year.
3. One thing more we notice as in some sort belonging to this passage--this, namely, that life can be great and good, and according to the will of God, not only, yet best, by things done, by a series of activities. “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” I would not here set forth doing, in the narrow mechanical sense, as opposed to speaking, or thinking, or feeling. Some words are acts, some thoughts, some feelings are also acts. All real thought and feeling is action to God. But undoubtedly the reference is chiefly here to outward action--to what is visible and tangible--thoughts embodied, feelings put into words, words put into action; everything made compact, consistent, harmonious. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Holy forms of speech
1. It is good to accustom the tongue to holy forms of speech; it is a great help; the heart is best where there are such explicit and express exceptions of Providence--“If the Lord please,” “If the Lord will,” “If it please the Lord that I live.” A pure lip becometh a Christian. Besides, it is useful to stir up reverence in ourselves, and for others’ instruction. Such forms are confessions of Divine providence and the uncertainty of human life.
2. The children of God use them frequently (1Co 4:19; 1 Corinthians 16:7; Romans 1:10; Philippians 2:19). The children of God know that all their goings are ordered by the Lord; therefore they often use these reservations of His will and power (Genesis 28:20; Hebrews 6:3).
3. The very heathens, by the light of nature, were wont to use these forms with some religion, and would seldom speak of any purpose of theirs without this holy parenthesis. Plato bringeth in Alcibiades asking Socrates how he should speak; he answereth, “Before every work thou must say, ‘ If God will.’”
4. When we use these forms, the heart must go along with the tongue; common speeches, wherein God’s name is used, if the heart be not reverent, are but profanations.
5. It is not always necessary to express these forms; though there must be always either implicitly or expressly a submission to the will of God, yet we cannot make it a sin to omit such phrases. The holy men of God have often purposed things to come, and yet not formally expressed such conditions. (T. Manton.)
A holy frame of mind
I. THE REASONS FOR THIS FRAME OF MIND.
1. Death or want of ability often prevents the execution of our best plans.
2. The plans of others often conflict with ours, or ours with theirs, and so neutralise one another.
3. We are often deprived of the opportunity or the desire to carry out our plans, but all under the guidance of God.
II. ITS FRUITS. It will make us--
1. Careful in laying;
2. Thankful for the success of;
3. Submissive to and satisfied with the frustration of, our most cherished plans and desires. (J. J. Van Oosterzee.)
Recognition of God’s will
It is a special point of godliness in all things that are to be done, first, to make honourable mention of the Lord’s will and pleasure, and evermore to recount and record our own frailness, and in all things to say, if the Lord will, and if we live, we will do this or that. Our whole life relieth upon Him, our whole state standeth upon His only pleasure, all our condition is only in His hands, without His leave we can do nothing; let us therefore refer all things to His will. And this is not only true in walking after the law of God, and directing our lives according to His will, which without His special grace cannot be, but of the whole course of our life, which is altogether directed by His providence, wherefore in all things men ought to prefer the will of God. To which purpose our Saviour Christ putteth the petition, concerning the will of God, before the things appertaining unto this life. This even reason itself, besides the Word of God, teacheth us; for is it not reason that we should say, by His leave we will do this or that, from whom we have our life, our moving, and being? And this we have from God. Is it not reason, then, that we should yield ourselves under His will? (R. Turnbull.)
The wisdom of the Divine will
Bishop Vincent, who was General Grant’s pastor at Galena, Illinois, has been telling a fine story of the General
They were walking together one moonlight night in Washington, shortly after the war, but before Grant became President, when the Bishop remarked on the peculiarity of the despatches which the General had sent from the field. “It has been noticed,” he said, “that you never speak of God or invoke the Divine aid, and uncharitable critics have commented unfavourably on the fact.” That is true, replied Grant, in his quiet way. “The other side were always calling on God, but I thought it better to trust more and say less. At the same time, I always had the most implicit faith in a superior wisdom, and none of my plans ever miscarried without a better result than if they had been fulfilled.”
A principle, not a rule
Rules are given that they may be observed literally. Principles are given that they may be applied intelligently and observed according to their spirit. We do not obey Christ when we allow the thief who has taken our upper garment to have our under one also; nor do we obey St. James when we say, “If the Lord will,” or “Please God,” of every future event, and make a plentiful use of “D.V.” in all our correspondence. St. James means that we should habitually feel that moment by moment we are absolutely dependent upon God, not only for the way in which our lives are henceforth spent, but for their being prolonged at all. (A. Plummer, D. D.)
Ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil
It will be profitable for us to consider carefully, and to examine ourselves after reviewing them, some of the principal grounds of boasting prevalent amongst us, the vanity of which God has exposed in His Word and in the daily experience of mankind.
I. The most prominent and universal of these is the Pharisee’s boast, “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are”; the boast of self-righteousness or the refuge of fear, the vaunt of self-complacency or the consolation of a conscience not at ease, the hollow comfort of souls that have heard of a wrath to come, but have not learnt the way to flee from it. The mother does not look upon her fairest children with more pride than the heart of man is prone to feel in looking at the works of its own service and contemplating the fruits of its own goodness. Every act of charity, every deed of grace, every observance of religious duty, the very emotions of religious faith or sentiment, all are turned into food for pride and the strength of a security most insecure.
“The wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire.
” The heart is proud of its idols and is content to worship them; the happy mother boasts of her children and rejoices without trembling over the frailest gift of God; the fond wife clings to her husband and in the strength of her proud reverence and love rests the confidence of her soul if trouble comes to try it. And man makes his boast in the grateful love that surrounds him; he is proud of the hearts that draw their happiness and hopes from him; he gathers the tender ones about him and says with quiet satisfaction, “Behold, I and the children whom God hath given me”; and so our dearest affections become snares of pride, evil rejoicings, to lull the heart in a false security, to fill it with a peace which is no peace, to strengthen it with motives which are not of Heaven, to wrap it in a short-lived satisfaction, a glorying which is not in the Lord, the light of such happiness as a moment may turn to the darkness of the deepest midnight. From this vain boasting of the heart spring the deepest anguish and sorest trials of our lives.
III. “They that trust in their wealth and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches,” whose “inward thought is that their houses shall endure for ever and their dwelling-places to all generations”; the purse-proud or the rank-proud, who “hath said in his heart I shall not be moved for I shall never be in adversity,” who is not “in trouble as other men, neither is he plagued like other men,” to whom one day telleth another the same unvarying tale of his prosperity, to whom the world bows down as it bows to every image of the world-god, Mammon, these are types of a false security, such as their lowest worshippers know how to estimate: envy itself) as it looks askance upon them, remembers the rich man in the parable and half-renounces its greediness; and all but the poor deluded boasters themselves remember him who had got together the fruits of an abundant harvest and bade his soul take her ease, eat, drink and be merry, till he was arrested by the terrible voice of God declaring to him, “Thou fool! this night shall thy soul be required of thee; then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?”
IV. The boast of youth is strength, the energy of health unbroken by long sickness, the vigour of the hope undaunted by disappointment, the bloom of an unwrinkled cheek, the joy of an untried spirit, the activity of fresh affections and the glowing power to love, the confidence of its simple trust, the earnestness of its crude opinions, the warmth of its zeal, the fire of its devotion; in these youth makes its boast and only finds that its rejoicings are evil when the flower of its strength and beauty has faded, when its hopes have proved to be dreams, when its zeal has reaped the rewards of folly, when experience has made void its unripe judgment, when selfishness has swallowed up or ingratitude has ill requited the warmth of its early regards. And then comes the dreary season when if grace does not take possession of the soul vexation and sorrow are born, uneasiness begins to disturb the heart’s unspiritual peace, the weary life-struggle commences, the struggle for progress without hope, for work without strength, for comfort without faith, for the refreshment of love without the power to give it, for the rewards of the world when the soul has acknowledged its vanity and respect for the world has departed.
V. “Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” This vain confidence in Time, this vague expectation of what shall be, sometimes takes treacherously the aspect of a holier trust and a more faithful boasting in the goodness and providence of God. Be wise and distinguish between the faith that waits patiently for the Lord, which looks to the morrow to confirm the blessings of to-day, and yet knows that the grace not secured to-day may not be vouchsafed to morrow, which has no fear of its days being cut short and its season of repentance brought to an untimely end, and yet would not postpone its repentance for an hour, knowing that “now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation”; whose hopes and plans are in the future, but it says, “If the Lord will we shall live to do this or that”;--distinguish this faith from the blind confidence which puts off the sad work of repentance to “a more convenient season,” which, while the Spirit is crying “To-day if ye will hear His voice,” answers inwardly, “Nay, but it shall be to-morrow,” and so keeps the great work of life ever one day in advance, till postponement breeds indifference, impunity begets boldness, out of boldness comes defiance, procrastination sears the conscience, and so the last hour of all, to which folly has resolved to delay its acceptance of Christ’s Atonement, is as full of security as if another morrow were still to come instead of the everlasting To-day of godless confusion, of impenitent remorse, of undying death; an Eternity without a future, but full of the vain boastings and evil rejoicings and shocking delusions of the past; haunted by the echoes of that fatal word which was once the soul’s boast and stay, and still wailing in hopeless impotence the old dreary strain, “To-morrow.” (A. J.Macleane, M. A.)
A man who stood high in the city observed, with great satisfaction, that he had in a single morning cleared £30,000 by a speculation. A brother merchant remarked that he ought to be very grateful to Providence for such good fortune; whereupon the successful merchant snapped his fingers, and said, “Providence! pooh! that for Providence! I can do a deal better for myself than Providence can ever do for me.” He who heard the observation walked away, and resolved never to deal with such a man again except upon cash principles, for he felt sure that a crash would come sooner or later. Great was the indignation of the man who stood high in the city when he was told, “If you and I are to have dealings it must be on strictly ready-money terms.” He was insulted; he would not endure it; he would go to another house. That other house welcomed his custom, and in due time it was repaid by losing many thousands. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Some of those who despise religion say: “Thank God we are not of this holy number.” They who thank God for their unholiness had best go ring the bells for joy that they shall never see God. (Old English Author.)
The noun is defined by Aristotle as the character of the man who lays claim to what will bring him credit when the claim is either altogether false or grossly exaggerated. He contrasts it; with the “irony” which deliberately, with good or bad motive, understates its claim. (Dean Plumptre.)
The danger of the boaster
Two geese, when about to start southwards on their annual autumn migration, were entreated by a frog to take him with them. On the geese expressing their willingness to do so if a means of conveyance could be devised, the frog produced a stalk of long grass, got the two geese to take it one by each end, while he clung to it by his mouth in the middle. In this manner the three were making their journey successfully when they were noticed from below by some men, who loudly expressed their admiration of the device, and wondered who had been clever enough to discover it. The vainglorious frog, opening his mouth to say “It was me,” lost his hold, fell to the earth and was dashed to pieces. (J. Gilmour, M. A.)
To him that knoweth to do good, and dosth it not
Sins of emission
It is hard for men under the plain precepts of the gospel not to know how to do good; but who is there that can say he doth all the good he knows? To do good here doth not barely imply something that is lawful, which it is some way in our power to do; but that to which we are under some obligation, so that it becometh our duty to do it. For a sin of omission must suppose an obligation, since every sin must be a transgression of the law.
I. THE GOOD WHICH WE ARE OBLIGED TO DO.
1. With respect to God.
(1) The duty which we owe to God in our minds; which is, not barely to know Him, but frequently to think of Him as our maker and benefactor.
(a) To have frequent and serious thoughts of Him, without which it will be impossible to keep our minds in that temper which they ought to be
172 in. For the thoughts of God keep up a vigorous sense of religion, inflame our devotion, calm our passions, and are the most powerful check against the force of temptations.
(b) We are always bound to have an habitual disposition of mind towards God. This is that which is commonly called the love of God, and is opposed to the love of sin.
(2) There are duties of external worship and service owing to God; and how shall we know when the omission of these becomes a sin to us? For these are not always necessary, and sometimes we may be hindered from them. To answer this I lay down these rules:
(a) A constant or habitual neglect of those duties which God hath appointed for His worship and service cannot be without a sin of omission, because that must arise from an evil temper and disposition of mind.
(b) Whether the omission of such public duties of Divine worship be a sin or not depends very much on the reason and occasion of it.
2. But besides the duties which we owe to God, there are such which we owe to one another, which cannot be omitted without sin. But there are certain such duties which we owe both to the public and to one another.
(1) As to the public, and concerning that we may take notice of two rules:
(a) Those duties cannot be omitted without sin which cannot be omitted without prejudice to the public Rood. The main duty of this kind which I shall insist upon is the laying aside all animosities and distinctions of parties, and carrying on that which is the undoubted common interest of us all.
(b) Men cannot without sin omit the doing those duties which their places do require from them. For those are intended for a public benefit.
(2) I now proceed to the good which we are to do with respect to others of the same nature and in a worse condition than ourselves, and therefore need our help and assistance.
(a) That the measures of duty in this case are very different, according to the different circumstances and conditions of persons.
(b) There are particular seasons when a greater measure of doing good is required than at others: i.e., when persons suffer for religion and a good conscience; when the necessities of people are more general and pressing; when great objects of charity are certainly known to ourselves and concealed from others, &c.
II. THE NATURE OF THE OBLIGATION WE LIE UNDER TO DO THE GOOD WE KNOW. And the reason of considering this is from the comparison Of several duties with one another; for we may be bound to several things at the same time, but we cannot perform them together; and the difficulty then is to understand which of these duties we may omit without sin.
1. As to the nature of our duties. For there are several kinds of things that are good, and we are to have a different regard to them (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7). When two duties interfere with one another we are bound to prefer the greater and more substantial duty, and then the omission of the lesser is no sin.
2. As to the authority which requires them. There is no question but when the authority of God and man contradict each other, God is to be obeyed rather than man.
3. As to the obligation we are under, and that is threefold.
(1) That of nature, which is to act according to reason; and none can question that, but those who question whether there be any such principle as reason in mankind; and whosoever do so have reason to begin at home.
(2) Of Christianity, which supposes and enforces that of nature, and superadds many other duties which we are bound to perform as Christians.
(3) Of our several relations and particular employments. As to the former, we are under great obligations from God and nature and Christianity to do the duties which belong to us in them. As to the latter, they commonly require a stricter obligation by oath to do those things which otherwise we are not bound to do. But being entered into it by a voluntary act of our own, we cannot omit such duties without sin but where the circumstances of things do supersede the obligation. (Bp. Stillingfleet.)
The responsibility of knowledge
(with John 13:17)
Two texts, two sides to one and the same truth, two sides to one coin, back and front. The truth is this--Knowledge without action is simply good for nothing. Act up to what you know, or so much the worse for you. The first text puts it positively, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” The second text puts it negatively, “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin”--the mere neglect of doing right. If a man does not act up to his knowledge of right and good, he has committed positive sin. He not only loses his blessedness, but he--the most pure, moral man--is guilty of positive sin. Mere notional religion never saved a man yet. We have plenty of notional religion; we know what is right, every one of us. We know, I believe, pretty well in this congregation. We know the law of God, we know the gospel of God, we know the way of salvation, we have known it all our lives. These great truths, which are spending thousands of pounds to preach among the heathen; we who live in the full sunshine of that light, do we practise them? If we know these things, Jesus says, blessed are ye if ye do them. But how apt we are to rest satisfied with this miserable notional religion--seeing, believing, attending, listening, hearing, and nothing come of it after all. The Great Searcher of hearts searches right through all sophistry of that kind, and He tells us over and over again in His Word that hearing, knowing, assenting, and believing, simply goes for nothing, unless there is acting right in daily life. How apt we are to begin the New Year by making our plans as though we had a long lease of life before us. We think we shall do most wonderful things. We boast, and we rejoice in our boasting, that we can do this and that and the other thing. Purposes and plans of usefulness for ourselves and for the benefit of others we make most liberally; and how many of them come to anything after all? How apt we are to make the largest promises and yet fail in performing them--“To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin”! Dear friends, have some of us begun the New Year with this feeling, that we really ought this year to be far more diligent in the keeping of our hearts. Perhaps you say: “I acknowledge that my habits of private devotion are becoming careless and hurried and unsatisfactory; I really ought to study my Bible more frequently and systematically; I really ought to give more time to it; I really ought to pray with more feeling--prayer is not merely going through a certain form of words, but is really a coming to close grips with God, and bringing down a blessing from on high by earnest pleading--I really ought to do this; I ought to give more time to it. I confess that my time for devotion has been often sadly scamped and hurried.” Devotion cannot be done in a hurry. Hurried devotion spoils all; as I have heard it put, cream does not come upon milk unless it stands. There is often a want in our devotions just owing to the hurried way we pass through them. “I really must be different,” you say. “I will be more careful, more systematic in the study of my Bible.” It is well to make resolutions of that kind, but remember that the very knowledge that you ought to do this is positive sin if it is neglected. Take another branch of Christian duty. We are very apt to make plans about the beginning of the New Year. Some are ready to say, “I have been leading a very selfish life. God has given me many things to enjoy. He has been giving me time, He has been giving me money, or He has been giving me leisure, and I have just been using these things for my own enjoyment and pleasure and profit, forgetting that I must use them as committed to me as a steward who shall have to give account to God. I must make a better use of my money. I must look clearly, and see how much of my money I am giving to God, and how much I am keeping to myself.” Perhaps it is time you have. “I am bound,” you say, “to make a better use of my time. I acknowledge I have wasted a great deal of it uselessly and shamefully. I ought really to employ it differently. I ought to visit among the poor, and the sick, and the afflicted; I ought to try and comfort them more than I have been doing. I know I ought to use my opportunities so ante bring, were it only one soul, to the knowledge of the Saviour during the year. I know I ought.” You feel you ought; you know you ought. Then you are guilty of deliberate sin if you don’t. Judged from the ordinary standpoint, you may be all that is morally beautiful and amiable; but, if you know you ought to lead this useful life, and if you are leading a useless and indulgent life--“To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (F. H.Roberts.)
Sinful neglect of duty
I. That men sin not only when they positively transgress the law of God, BUT ALSO WHEN THEY DO NOT FULFIL THE DUTIES WHICH THE LAW REQUIRES TO THE UTMOST OF THEIR POWER. And--
II. That our guilt is more highly aggravated WHEN WE NEGLECT THE DUTIES WHICH ARE KNOWN TO US, or when we decline opportunities of doing good though we know that it is our duty to embrace them. Conclusion:
1. This subject administers a sharp reproof to those who, in any ease, attempt to evade their convictions of duty.
2. This subject administers reproof also to the slothful and inactive servant who rests content with low attainments in religion.. (R. Walker.)
Sin against knowledge
is sin with an accent, wickedness with a witness. (J. Trapp.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "James 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30