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Ye rich men, weep and howl
The miseries coming upon the rich
THE COMING OF JUDGMENT. “Weep and howl”--weep, and do it in this open, violent manner, with loud, bitter cries of distress--do it wailing, shrieking, howling as was, and still is, so customary among the Orientals in times of mourning. Lament thus “for,” or over, “the miseries that shall come upon you”--more exactly and impressively, “which are coming on,” are already even now impending. These miseries were not simply those which in all circumstances the love and abuse of money entail, but specially, and in addition to them, the temporal judgments which were about to visit the guilty parties in this instance. They were to be the peculiar objects of vengeance; their treasures were to be rifled, their possessions wrenched from them, and stripped bare, they were to be subjected to hardships, all the heavier because of the pleasures once enjoyed and the losses thus sustained.
II. THE COMMENCEMENT OF JUDGMENT. “Your riches are corrupted” either their possessions of all kinds, these being afterwards spoken of in detail, or, as distinguished from what follows, those hoarded stores of grain, fruits, and other provisions, in which the wealth of Orientals largely consisted. To the latter the term “corrupted” could most properly be applied. They were rotting, perishing. “Your garments are moth-eaten.” In eastern countries one of the most valuable possessions was a stock of costly clothing, a number of dresses, wardrobes filled with a great variety of articles of apparel. They were moth-eaten--a way in which articles of dress, when long kept and little used, are often wasted, destroyed. “Your gold and silver is cankered”--rusted, corroded. The original word implies that it is so not partially, but entirely--as it were through and through its whole substance. This does not take place in regard to silver and gold as it does to iron and steel; but they are spoken of as undergoing the change to which metals generally are subject; and there is that which corresponds to it n their case, for they get discoloured, blackened, tarnished, wasted, corrupted-looking. “And the rust of them shall be a witness against you”--literally, “shall be for a testimony to you”--“and shall eat your flesh asit were fire.” In the moth-eaten garments, the cankered silver and gold, their sin no doubt appeared, but appeared in the judgments which had followed it, for in that process of destruction which had commenced there was the avenging hand of God visible. This is the prominent thing--the punishment already begun. The very objects on which they prided themselves, which they made an idol of, were smitten; and n every hole of the cloth, every spot on the money, there was a sign of the consumption that was coming on themselves, of the destruction that was impending over them, the servants of the mammon of unrighteousness. There was a testimony in their wasted, blackened stores--a testimony borne to the worm that dieth not, and the fire that cannot be quenched. “Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.” Treasure has been understood here in the figurative sense of a store of wrath, vengeance to be opened and emptied at the time mentioned. But it is obviously to be taken literally, and as referring to their material riches as detailed in the preceding verses. The “last days” are those introducing and issuing in the season of judgment which was approaching--the last days of the Jewish Church and nation, and, in many cases of the individual persons themselves; for what multitudes were then to perish by the sword, by famine, by disease, by captivity? They had gathered wealth for a season like this, when they could not enjoy it, could not retain it--when it was to become the prey of the rapacious invaders, or of the more needy and desperate of their own countrymen. But the literal translation of the original is “in the last days”--they had heaped treasure together, not for, but in the period thusdesignated. These days were already upon them--the days were begun, and hastening to their terrible close; and it was at a season like that, one fitter far for repentance and reformation, one calling them to break off their sins by righteousness, to prepare for impending judgment by turning to the Lord--one specially imposing on them the obligation to lay up treasure, not on earth but in heaven, where no moth or rust can corrupt, and where no thieves can break through and steal--it was then that they devoted their efforts to the gathering of riches, the storing of fruits, garments, and the precious metals. Here was the deepest guilt, here the most reckless, unprincipled infatuation.
III. THE CAUSES OF JUDGMENT.
1. Injustice. The wages of the workman should be paid honestly and punctually. To withhold it is a flagrant wrong, and such a wrong was committed by the rich men whose conduct the apostle is here denouncing. They kept it back “by fraud.” And in various ways may such fraud be perpetrated. The master may not pay at all the stipulated and earned wages. He may receive the service without remunerating the servant. Or he may make unjust deductions from the amount which has been agreed on. He may take advantage of his position and power, and on certain pretexts give less than was bargained for by the other party. And what is still more common, he may beat down the price of labour, and pay for it most inadequately. He may turn to account the competition which prevails and the necessities of the poor, so as to get work done for greatly less than its proper value. This hire, dishonestly retained, is represented by James as crying. Yes, from the coffers where it was treasured up, a loud, piercing call for vengeance rose to high heaven. Often, often, the oppressed are not listened to on earth, however just their claim and urgent their pleading. But they are heard in heaven. Here their cries are said to have “entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.” He was able to vindicate the cause of the defrauded reapers who groaned and supplicated. He could call to account, and overwhelm with destruction, those who trampled on their dependents, and set all human law and right at defiance.
2. Luxury. “Ye have lived in pleasure”--that is, in a self-indulgent, sumptuous, effeminate manner. In the qualification, “on the earth,” there is an implied contrast with another region, where vengeance was stored up, and their portion was to be one of want and misery. “And been wanton.” This word conveys to us the idea of lewdness, lustfulness; but what is intended here is luxuriousness, voluptuousness. It does not necessarily involve indulgence in gross excesses, in coarse and degrading impurities. It intimates that the persons were devoted to earthly enjoyments, and regardless of expense in procuring them, for the term is expressive of extravagance, wastefulness. “Ye have nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter.” They have satiated, pampered their hearts, for there were seated the tastes and appetites which they gratified; there the craving for, and the sense of satisfaction, repletion, as they fed and dressed, fattened and adorned their bodies. And they had been doing this “as in,” or simply, “in a day of slaughter.” They were on the brink of destruction. God was about to draw His glittering sword and smite them in His anger. And yet in these circumstances they disregarded all warnings and signs; they revelled and wantoned as if they were perfectly secure. They were sunk in brutish insensibility. It was thus with the antediluvians: for they did eat and drink, they were married and given in marriage, until the flood came and took them all away.
3. Violence--violence going the length even of blood, of murder. Stephen was the first of a band of early martyrs whom the Jews, in the malignant unbelief, had put to death for their adherence to the gospel. The holiness, the righteousness of these victims of fanatical fury, instead of saving them, had excited the rage and drawn down the vengeance of their adversaries. “And he doth not resist you”--not only or chiefly because of a want of power, but because of the meekness of his character, his patience, endurance, long-suffering. He submits to your murderous violence. He commits his cause to God, and allows you to do your utmost, striving to exhibit the spirit of his crucified Master. And this made their guilt the greater. Their cruelty was the less excusable. It had no provocation. (John Adam.)
Avaricious rich men
It is not to “rich men,” simply as such, that James addresses himself. There was no sin in being rich. It is to the description of rich men whose characters he proceeds to portray, that he speaks--unprincipled, selfish, ungodly, wicked rich men. “Weep and howl.” Tears are the natural indication of grief: “howling,” or loud lamentation, of overwhelming distress. They had reason for both in “the miseries that were coming upon them.” They would be the chief objects of the plundering rapacity of the besieging foe; and, while the sword would be upon them for their riches’ sake--even to those of them who fell not a prey themselves, the very loss of all their accumulated stores, gathered with so much pains and care, would itself be one of their miseries from which the poorer would be exempt. True it is, however, with regard to all “rich men” of the same character, that “miseries are coming upon them.” What, then, is the character? Verses 2, 3. The word “riches” need not be confined to the precious metals alone: the” silver and the gold” are separately mentioned. Eastern riches consisted frequently, not in these alone, but also in stores of corn, and wine, and oil; and here, as in other places, “garments”--wardrobes of various descriptions of clothing, are mentioned, as forming part of such wealth. “Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten,” is a part of the charge brought against them: the charge of avaricious selfishness--that, instead of giving away, they kept all to themselves; allowing what might have been distributed for the benefit of others, rather than part with it, to go to waste in their own stores; and allowing the moths to consume what might have clothed and comforted the naked. Had they given away as they ought to have done, their riches would not have been “corrupted.” That their “riches were corrupted and their garments moth-eaten” was thus their crime rather than their punishment--though as a part of their punishment--the effects of their selfish hoarding--it might also be regarded. The “last days” are susceptible of twointerpretations: of the time of Jerusalem’s destruction and the final overthrow of the Jewish economy; or of the end of the world. I do not think it at all unlikely that the apostle had both in his eye; on the same principle on which our Lord Himself appears to pass from the former to the latter--from the nearer to the more distant--in His remarkable address to His disciples in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel by Matthew. In the sack and pillage of Jerusalem, how vain would all the pains appear which they had bestowed on the “heaping together of their treasures.” And in the great day of final reckoning they should find that, in having amassed for self, instead of having distributed for God and for fellow-men, they had only been “heaping up” evidence for their own crimination at the bar of Divine judgment. How different the case with those who, in the early days of the Christian Church, used their wealth as the inspired history describes: when they” sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, as every man had need; and distribution was made to all as need required.” They had acted in conformity with the Lord’s own directions (Mt Luke 12:33). Of that treasure there would “in the last days” be no loss, nor any bitter lamentation over it. No enemy could touch it. And in “the day of the Lord”--the day of final account--it would tell in their favour as the evidence of the genuineness of their faith and love. The wealth of those addressed by James was not only selfishly hoarded, it was obtained by criminal oppression and cruelty (verse 4). This “keeping back by fraud”--under false and unworthy pretexts--of the reapers’ wages, to which they were rightfully entitled, was a fearful violation to explicit Divine precepts (see Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14-15). And it “cried”--cried against the unrighteous oppressor; cried to God; cried for just retribution; cried--in the same sense in which God said to Cain--“The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.” And, as God heard the voice of the blood of a murdered brother, so did He hear that of the “hire” of the defrauded labourers. Let Christians avoid even the remotest approach to such oppression. They ought to be examples of righteousness and love as the children of a just and merciful God. We have next, the manner in which they laid out their riches. We have seen how they were made: we learn now how they were used (verse 5). The verse expresses the extreme of self-indulgence; the gratification of every sensual desire. Like the infatuated king of Israel, “in the days of his vanity,” “whatsoever their eyes desired they withheld not from them; they restrained not their hearts from any joy.” The clause--“ye have nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter,” is by many understood to mean their pampering themselves as in a day of killing for social festivity. But the meaning seems rather to be that they were pampering themselves as beasts were fed and fattened for a day of slaughter. They were preparing themselves for the knife. While thus “feeding themselves without fear,” they were “only fitting themselves for final destruction.” Their “joy would be turned to sorrow; their mirth to heaviness.” And, in addition to all this, while at the same time in full consistency with it, they were persecutors. “Ye have condemned and killed the just” (verse 6). This by some interpreted as having reference to Christ Himself: “the just” being in the singular number--“the just” or “the just one.” And without doubt this is one of His distinguishing designations. But, on the other hand, “He doth not resist you” is in the present time; and agrees better, consequently, with a charge of present persecution unto death, than with one relating to a deed so long past. This, therefore, favours the interpretation which makes it refer to the persecution of Christ’s followers, who resembled Him in character; of which we have so beautiful an exemplification in the case of the first martyr, Stephen. That there were persecutors still troubling the Church is evident from the admonitions to patience under such troubles, which immediately follow (verses 7, 8). Let us conclude with one or two reflections.
1. Surely the poorest Christian has no reason to envy the wealthy but wicked man of the world; no, even though he were to suffer, and suffer unto death, at his hands. The poorest Christian is “rich in faith, and an heir of the kingdom which God hath provided for them that love Him.” He has God Himself for his portion--a portion infinite in preciousness and fulness of blessing, and unfailing and everlasting in duration. Let him cherish “godliness with contentment,” and he is a happy man--happy in enjoyment, and happier in hope.
2. There may be rich men whose wealth has been acquired by honest means--who have been chargeable with no extortion; and who, in the use oftheir wealth, have not at all rioted in sensuality and libertinism, or abused the superiority which it imparted in evil-entreating and persecuting the godly. Let not such, on this account, sit at ease and flatter themselves with safety. Your riches may be a snare to you, notwithstanding. You may trust in your wealth. It may take away your heart.
3. Let Christians, whom Providence, in whatever measure, has favoured with this world’s wealth, remember the true use of riches. Bear in mind that in bestowing wealth upon you the universal Proprietor alienates nothing from Himself. Of the gold and the silver which He puts into your coffers He continues to say, just as He does of all yet in the bowels of the earth--“The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine.” And His command is, “Honour the Lord with thy substance, and”--not with the paltry remnants after all thine own selfish cravings have been fully satiated, but--“with the first-fruits of all thine increase.” (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
The curse of wealth
A full purse, with a lean soul, is a great curse. (Bunyan.)
The gold poison
Gold is the worst poison to men’s souls. (Shakespeare.)
God help the rich
God help the rich, the poor can help themselves.
Gold bought too dearly
Men may buy gold too dear.
Very few men acquire wealth in such a manner as to receive pleasure from it. Just as long as there is the enthusiasm of the chase they enjoy it; but when they begin to look around, and think of settling down, they find that that part by which joy enters is dead in them. They have spent their lives in heaping up colossal piles of treasure, which stand at the end like the pyramids in the desert sands holding only the dust of kings. (H. W. Beecher.)
Too much and too little
He that hath too little wants feathers to fly withal; he that hath too much is cumbered with too large a tail. (Owen Feltham.)
The wounds of evil wealth
It were no bad comparison to liken mere rich men to camels and mules; for they often pursue their devious way over hills and mountains, laden with India purple, with gems, aromas, and generous wines upon their backs, attended, too, by a long line of servants as a safeguard on their way. Soon, however, they come to their evening halting-place, and forthwith their precious burdens are taken from their backs; and they, now wearied and stripped of their lading and their retinue of slaves, show nothing but livid marks of stripes. So, also, those who glitter in gold and purple raiment, when the evening of life comes rushing on them, have nought to show but marks and wounds of sin impressed upon them by the evil use of riches. (St. Augustine.)
Excessive wealth ruinous
Gotthold saw a bee flutter for a while around a pot of honey, and at last light upon it, intending to feast to its heart’s content. It, however, fell in, and, being besmeared in every limb, miserably perished. On this he mused, and said, “It is the same with temporal prosperity, and that abundance of wealth, honour, and pleasure, which are sought for by the world as greedily as honey is by the bee. A bee is a happy creature so long as it is assiduously occupied in gathering honey from the flowers, and by slow degrees accumulating a store of it. When, however, it meets with hoard like this, it knows not what to do, and is betrayed into ruin.” (New Cyclo. of Illustrations.)
Worldly riches are like nuts: many clothes are torn in getting them, many a tooth broke in cracking them; but never a belly filled with eating them. (J. Venning.)
Wealth too dearly bought
A ship bearing a hundred emigrants has been driven from her course, and wrecked on a desert island far from the tracks of man. There is no way of escape; but there are means of subsistence. An ocean, unvisited by ordinary voyagers, circles round their prison; but they have seed, with a rich soil to receive, and a genial climate to ripen it. Ere any plan has been laid, or any operations begun, an exploring-party returns to headquarters, reporting the discovery of a gold mine. Thither instantly the whole party resort to dig. They labour successfully day by day and month after month. They acquire and accumulate large heaps of gold. But spring is past, and not a field has been cleared, nor a grain of seed committed to the ground. The summer comes, and their wealth increases; but the store of food is small. In harvest they begin to discover that their heaps of gold are worthless. When famine star, s them in the face a suspicion shoots across their fainting hearts that the gold has cheated them. They rush to the woods, fell the trees, dig the roots, till the ground, sow the seed. It is too late! Winter has come; and their seed rots in the ground. They die of want in the midst of their treasures. This earth is the little isle, eternity the ocean round it; on this shore we have been cast. There is a living seed, but gold mines attract us. We spend spring and summer there; winter overtakes us toiling there, destitute of the bread of life, forgetting that we ought to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto us.” (W. Armlet, D.D.)
Wealth seasoned by alms
The pious Jews believed that as salt seasoned food so did alms riches, and that he who did not give alms of what he had his riches should be dispersed. The moth would corrupt the bags, and the canker corrode the money, unless the mass was sanctified by giving a part to the poor.
Ruined by riches
Do not be over-anxious about riches. Get as much of true wisdom and goodness as you can; but be satisfied with a moderate portion of this world’s good. Riches may prove a curse as well as a blessing. I was walking through an orchard, looking about me, when I saw a low tree laden more heavily with fruit than the rest. On a nearer examination it appeared that the tree had been dragged to the very earth and broken by the weight of its treasures. “Oh!” said I, gazing on the tree, “here lies one who has been ruined by his riches.” In another part of my walk I came up with a shepherd who was lamenting the loss of a sheep that lay mangled and dead at his feet. On inquiry about the matter he told me that a strange dog had attacked the flock, that the rest of the sheep had got away through a hole in the hedge, but that the ram now dead had more wool on his back than the rest, and the thorns of the hedge held him fast till the dog had worried him. “Here is another,” said I, “ruined by his riches.” At the close of my ramble I met a man hobbling along on two wooden legs, leaning on two sticks. “Tell me,” said I, “my poor fellow, how you came to lose your legs?” “Why, sir,” said he, “in my younger days I was a soldier. With a few comrades I attacked a party of the enemy and overcame them, and we began to load ourselves with spoil. My comrades were satisfied with little, but I burdened myself with as much as I could carry. We were pursued; my companions escaped, but I was overtaken and so cruelly wounded that I only saved my life afterwards by losing my legs. It was a bad affair, sir; but it is too late to repent of it now.” “Ah, friend,” thought I, “like the fruit tree, and the mangled sheep, you may date your downfall to your possessions. It was your riches that ruined you.” When I see so many rich people as I do, caring so much for their bodies and so little for their souls, I pity them from the bottom of my heart, and sometimes think there are as many ruined by riches as by poverty. (Old Humphrey.)
Riches eating the flesh
Some strong poison is made of the rust of metals; none worse than that of money. (J. Trapp.)
Money an opportunity
Money, both inherited and accumulated, is a great talent or opportunity. Nothing astonishes me more than the fact that so many rich men utterly fail to realise what an opportunity wealth gives them. They go on heaping up useless wealth with which to curse their children. As though the mere accumulation of money was, in itself, a great gain! As though heaps of gold could protect them against all the ills to which flesh is heir! I am very glad that one millionaire--Mr. Carnegie, of Pennsylvania--realises that the best thing he can do with his money is to get rid of it, and that the worst thing possible would be to pile it upon the hapless head of his children. There seems to be, in some respects, even less public spirit among the wealthy men of our own time than distinguished the heathen patricians of old Rome. They delighted to spend their wealth in dignifying and adorning their great city. It is exceedingly strange to me that the immensely wealthy citizens of London do not use their millions to purify and to beautify this great capital. It is even more astonishing that those who profess and call themselves Christians, toil on and slave on, adding money-bag to money-bag, instead of using this mighty instrument to facilitate and encourage the evangelisation of mankind. Nearly every Christian and humanitarian organisation is crippled for want of more adequate resources. One of the greatest evils of the time is the miserliness of the wealthy. They are preparing for their children an awful retribution. The bitter and almost implacable hatred of the wealthy, which is the most dangerous social symptom of modern Europe, is the direct result of the awful way in which the wealthy have neglected to use their wealth for the public good. They are busily heaping up wealth, but they are also heaping up wrath against the day of wrath. They seem to have forgotten that wealth is a talent, an opportunity, a glorious opportunity, of serving God by serving men.
The troubles of the rich
Mr. Jay Gould, the American millionaire, thus confided his woes to a reporter: “I am kept on the drive now from early in the morning till late at night, without any let up, day in and day out. The money I’ve made has enslaved me. With financial success, cares, and responsibilities, and trials outnumbered go close together; and there is no escaping the embarrassments and troubles. A rich man ought to be judged pretty generously. He has a good deal more to contend with than people who are not rich generally suppose. Food and clothes and a place to sleep, that’s all a man gets in this world, and I don’t care how rich he is. The boy on the farm, the man who isn’t driven to death to look after property that is in his name, they are the happiest--or ought to be.”
Your riches are corrupted
1. Sordid sparing is a sure sign of a worldly heart. God gave us wealth, not that we should be hoarders, but dispensers. Seneca calleth covetous men chests. We think them men, and they are but coffers; who would envy a trunk well stored? Well, then, beware of “withholding more than is meet” Proverbs 11:24), of a delight in hoarding; it is a sure note that the world has too much of your heart.
2. Keeping things from public use till they be corrupted or spoiled is sordid sparing. When you lay them not out upon God, or others, or yourself, you are justly culpable. The inhabitants of Constantinople would afford no money to the Emperor Constantinus Palaeologus when he begged from door to door for a supply for the soldiers; but what was the issue? the barbarous enemy won the city and got all. The like story there is of Musteatzem, the covetous caliph of Babylon, who was such an idolater of his wealth and treasures that he would not dispend anything for the necessary defence of his city, whereupon it was taken, and the caliph famished to death, and his mouth, by Haalon, the Tartatian conqueror, filled with melted gold.
3. Covetousness bringeth God’s curse upon our estates. He sendeth corruption, and the rust, and the moth. There is nothing gotten by tenacity, by greedy getting, or close withholding. Not by greedy getting; when men will snatch an estate out of the hands of Providence, no wonder if God snatch it away again; ill gains are equivalent to losses (Micah 6:10). Not by undue withholding; it draweth man’s curse and God’s too upon us Proverbs 11:26). God can easily corrupt that which we will not bestow, and cause a worm to breed in manna. Certainly there is a “withholding that tendeth to poverty” (Proverbs 11:24).
4. There is corruption and decay upon the face of all created glory, Riches corrupted, garments moth-eaten, gold and silver cankered. It is madness to set up our rest in perishing things, “Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not” (Proverbs 23:5)? It is not only against grace, but reason; confidence should have a sure and stable ground. Well, then, take Christ’s advice (Matthew 6:19-20).
5. From the diversity of the terms--moth, corruption, canker, note that God hath several ways wherewith to blast our carnal comforts. Sometimes by the moth, sometimes by the thief, by rust or robbery; they may either rot, or be taken from us. Well, then, let the greater awe be impressed upon your thoughts. (T. Manton.)
The folly of avarice
We have here three kinds of possessions indicated. First, stores of various kinds of goods. These are “corrupted,” they have become rotten and worthless. Secondly, rich garments, which in the East are often a very considerable portion of a wealthy man’s possessions. They have been stored up so jealously and selfishly that insects have preyed upon them and ruined them. And thirdly, precious metals. These have become tarnished and rusted, through not having been put to any rational use. Everywhere their avarice has been not only sin, but folly. It has failed of its sinful object. The unrighteous hoarding has tended not to wealth, but to ruin. And thus the rust of their treasures becomes “a testimony against them.” In the ruin of their property their own ruin is portrayed; and just as corruption, and the moths, and the rust consume their goods, so shall the fire of God’s judgment consume the owners and abusers of them. They have reserved all this store for their selfish enjoyment, but God has reserved them for His righteous anger. (A. Plummer, D. D.)
Wealth exposed to danger
Strolling along the banks of a pond, Gotthold observed a pike basking in the sun, and so pleased with the sweet soothing rays as to forget itself and the danger to which it was exposed. Thereupon a boy approached, and with a snare formed of a horsehair, and fastened to the end of a rod, which he skilfully cast over his head, pulled it in an instant out of the water. “Ah me!” said Gotthold with a deep sigh, “how evidently do I here behold shadowed forth the danger of my poor soul! When the beams of temporal prosperity play upon us to our heart’s content, so grateful are they to corrupt flesh and blood, that, immersed in sordid pleasure, luxury, and security, we lose all sense of spiritual damager, and all thought of eternity. In this state, many are, in fact, suddenly snatched away to the eternal ruin of their souls.”
When Crates threw his gold into the sea, he cried out, Ego perdam te, ne tu perdas me. That is, “I will destroy you, lest you should destroy me.” Thus, if the world be not put to death here, it will put us to death hereafter. (T. Secker.)
Your garments are motheaten
In early days, besides silver and gold, which always and everywhere have been considered wealth, garments were stored up, and were regarded as an evidence of riches. Against these things time has a grudge. They wear out if you use them, and waste more if you do not. If you store them away, mildew and damp searches for them to rot them. If you too incautiously expose them to the cleansing air, you give knowledge of your treasure, excite cupidity, anti draw the thief to your dwelling. And while men covet, and the elements enviously consume your garments and your fabrics, there are insects created, it would seem, expressly to feed upon them. First is the moth miller. It is most fair, silent, harmless. And yet every housewife springs after it with electric haste. It is a dreaded pest--not for what it is, but for what it becomes. It is the mother of moths. And there are ten thousand moral moths just like them--soft, satiny, silent, harmless in themselves; but they lay eggs, and the eggs are not as harmless as the insects. There are sins that have teeth, and there are sins that have children with teeth. Could there, then, have been selected a figure more striking in its analogies than this? Could anything more clearly show to us the power of the sins of neglect? of the sins of indolence and of carelessness? of sins of a soft and gentle presence, that in themselves are not very harmful, but that are the breeders of others that are? of the silent mischiefs of the unused faculties or rooms of the soul, that are not ventilated, nor searched with the broom and the brush? men do well to watch and fight against obvious and sounding sins. They are numerous. They are armed and are desperate. They swarm the ways of life. Not one vice, not one temptation of which the Word of God warns us, is to be lightly esteemed. But these are not our only dangers. Tens of thousands of men perish, not by the lion-like stroke of temptation, but by the insidious bite of the hidden serpent; not with roar and strength, but with subtle poison. More men are moth-eaten than lion eaten in this life; and it behoves us in time to give heed to these dangers of invisible and insidious little enemies. The real strength of man is in his character. Now character is not a massive unit; it is a fabric, rather. It is an artificial whole made up by the interply of ten thousand threads. Every faculty is a spinner, spinning every day its threads, and almost every day threads of a different colour. Myriads and myriads of webbed products proceed from the many active faculties of the human soul, and character is made up by the weaving together of all these innumerable threads of daily life. Its strength is not merely in the strength of some simple unit, but in the strength of numerous elements. There are crimes that, like frost on flowers, in one single night accomplish their work of destruction. There are vices that, like freshets, sweep everything before them. Men may be destroyed in character and reputation, utterly and sudden. But there are other instruments of destruction besides these. We do well to mark them, and to watch against them; but we also do well to remember that a man may be preserved from crimes and from great vices, and yet have his character moth-eaten. Watch against little sins and little faults. First, aside from great vices and crimes, there are the moths of indolence. Indolence may be supposed to be morally wrong; but it is thought to be wrong rather in a negative way than otherwise. No, no! The mischief of water is not that it does not run, but that, not running, it corrupts, and corrupting breeds poisonous miasma, so that they who live in the neighbourhood inhale disease at every breath. The mischief of indolence is, not that it neglects the use of powers and the improvement of the opportunities of life, but that it breeds morbid conditions in every part of the soul. There is health in activity, but there is disease in indolence. There are moths also in things unsuspected. All men agree that a glutton and a drunkard are opprobrious and ignominous. But there are excesses from over-eating on this side of gluttony, and excesses from over-drinking this side of drunkenness. There are moths of appetite. There are many men who eat beyond the necessities of nature. They obscure their minds. There are many who, by taking too much food, twice or thrice a day repeated, keep all their feelings upon an edge, so that they are quick and irritable, or stupid and slow. There are many who, by mere over-eating, take from sleep its refreshment, and from their waking hours their peace, by the gnawing of the worm of appetite. This is a little thing. Your physician does not say much about it. Your parents hardly ever speak of it. It is a thing for every man to consider for himself. But it is a serious fact that two-thirds of the men who live a sedentary life impair their strength by the simple act of injudicious feeding--over-eating. And that which is true of food is still more true of stimuli: not alone of spirituous liquors, with regard to which you are warned abundantly, but also of domestic stimuli. I do not mean to be understood as saying that every man who employs tobacco is moth-eaten; that every man who indulges himself moderately in the use of tea and coffee is injured thereby. I do not mean to go so far as to say that every man who uses unfrequently and in small quantities, wines and liquors, is himself physically injured by them. But I do mean to say, comprehensively--and you know it is true--that in this sphere lie a multitude of mischiefs and of temptations, each of which is minute, but the sum of which is exceedingly dangerous. The carriage of our affections also develops a class of tendencies which are fitly included in this subject. There are many men who never give way to wrath on a great and sounding scale. It is wholesome to be mad thoroughly. It does a man good to subsoil him by stirring him up down to the bottom. I would that men were fretful less and angry more. For it is these little petty moths of perpetual fretfulness, moroseness, sourness; these little fribbles of temper that cut the thread of life--it is these that destroy men, inside and out. We read about some of the passions of which we see traces, but of the nature, and progress, and power of which we scarcely ever form an adequate conviction, either in others or in ourselves. Some of them are such as these: greediness, envy, jealousy. Youth is seldom afflicted with them. They are latent. They lie concealed. There is a sphere in men’s lives into which they are accustomed to sweep a whole multitude of petty faults without judging them, without condemning them, and without attempting to correct them. There is a realm of moral moths for almost all of us. We all hold ourselves accountable for major morals, but there is a realm of minor morals where we scarcely suppose ethics to enter. There are thousands and thousands of little untruths, that hum and buzz and sting in society, which are too small to be brushed or driven away. They are in the looks; they are in the inflections and tones of the voice; they are in the actions; they are in reflections rather than in direct images that are presented. They are methods of producing impressions that are false, though every means by which they are produced is strictly true. There are little unfairnesses between man and man, and companion and companion, that are said to be minor matters, and that are small things; there are little unjust judgments and detractions; there are slight indulgences of the appetites; there are petty violations of conscience; there are ten thousand of these plays of the passions in men, which are called foibles or weaknesses, but which eat like moths. They take away the temper, they take away magnanimity and generosity, they take from the soul its enamel and its polish. Men palliate and excuse them, but that has nothing to do with their natural effect upon us. They waste and destroy us, and that, too, in the soul’s silent and hidden parts. (H. W. Beecher.)
The hire of the labourers
Various ways of oppressing the poor
1. When through greatness you challenge their labours without reward, as the gentry use the peasants of many countries, “Woe be to him that useth his neighbour without wages” (Jeremiah 22:13), meaning Jehoiakim, who, in his pompous buildings used his subjects’ labour without hire.
2. When you give them not a proportionate hire, working upon their necessities, for then a great part of their labour is without reward; and it is flat covetousness to “exact all your labours” (Isaiah 58:3), when your reward is scanty and short.
3. When by cunning ye defraud them of their reward, either through bad payment or crafty cavils. The Lord saith, “I will be a swift witness against those that oppress the hireling in his wages” (Malachi 3:5). So it is in the text, “by fraud kept back.” God knoweth what is oppression, though veiled under crafty pretences.
4. When you diminish or change their wages, as it is said of Laban that he changed Jacob’s wages ten times (Genesis 31:41).
5. When you delay payment. God commanded the Jews to do it before sunset (see Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Leviticus 19:30). It is a maxim of the law that not to pay it at the time is to pay the less, because of the advantage of improvement; and in the text it is said, “kept back by fraud,” though not wholly taken away, yet “kept back” entitled them to sin. The Lord, you know, rewardeth His servants ere they have done their work; we have much of our wages aforehand, &c. (T. Manton.)
Profane rich men
What shall we say then? Is it not lawful at all to resist injuries, but shall we suffer ourselves to be spoiled, robbed, injured, smitten, and murdered without resisting? by not withstanding them shall we animate them, encourage them to further mischief? Hereunto I answer, though it be commanded us that we shall not resist, and commended in the righteous men that they did not resist their oppressions, yet it followeth not that the righteous may not at all resist. For, touching the commandment of Christ and His apostle, it is apparent that they spake of impatient resisting, and of such resisting as was joined with greedy desire of private revenge, in which manner the saints of God are everywhere forbidden to resist. In other respects it is not unlawful to resist, but either by avoiding their oppressions; either by telling the wicked of their injuries or, finally, by repelling force by force; when we cannot have the lawful aid of magistrates it is lawful to resist the wicked when they oppress us, which doctrine may be warranted out of the infallible word of truth. Our Saviour Christ commanded His disciples to fly from city to city when they were persecuted, and so by avoiding injuries to make resistance, as it were, to their persecutors. And when Himself was in danger of stoning He conveyed Himself from them, and did not suffer the Jews to wreak their wrath upon Him. Neither by avoiding and shunning their injuries is it lawful only to resist the wicked, but also by telling them of the wicked oppressions and extreme cruelty which they show towards their brethren, though in the meantime our bodies be subject to their tyrannous outrage and fury (John 18:22-23). The first sin and evil condemned in thesewicked rich men against whom St. James dealeth is their fraudulent detaining of their hirelings’ wages, whereof he giveth special example in their harvest labourers. Yet for so needful, so painful and profitable a work they were unrewarded and their wages detained by fraud from them, no doubt an extreme point of evil dealing. The greatness of their sin the apostle amplifieth in most effectual manner, “Behold,” saith he, “the hire of the labourers which have reaped your fields, which is by you kept back by fraud crieth, and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of hosts.” First, saith he, “Behold “of which speech there are divers uses. Sometimes it is used far a greater evidence and certainty of a thing. St. Jude, citing the words of Enoch for a great evidence of the Lord’s coming to judge the world, useth this phrase of speech: “Behold the Lord cometh with thousands of His saints, to give judgment against all men,” &c. In like manner, in this place, to assure them that their wickedness was certainly gone up into the cares of the Lord the apostle breaketh out in this manner: “Behold the hire of the labourers,” &c. Sometimes it is used in strange and wonderful things, which rarely are heard or seen, as Isaiah entreating of the extraordinary, rare, and wonderful manner of Christ’s conception, in this wise expresseth it: “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel.” Our apostle, either to assure them of their punishment, or as wondering at the hard dealing of the wicked, may not amiss in this sense be thought to use it: “Behold the hire of your labourers,” &c., as a thing to be wondered at, that you would be so hard hearted as to defraud their labourers of their hire, the apostle breaketh out and saith, “Behold the hire of your labourers,” etc.
2. The hire of those labourers which reaped their fields was detained. This amplifieth their wickedness. To detain the wages of any labourer who by the toil and moil of his body, and in the sweat of his face, eateth his bread cannot be but a great sin; but to deny them their wages, by whom our fields are reaped, our corn and grain gathered into our garners, is no doubt a grievous sin before God.
3. The wages of their hired servants was by fraud kept back. To detain the wages of the hireling and servant, which for his living worketh with men, is an evil and sin by the law and Word of God forbidden (Leviticus 19:13). To withhold the daily relief of a man from him, what is it, but as much as lieth in us, to take his life from him; for we keep back the thing whereby he liveth, and this is murder before the Lord.
And this sin of fraudulent detaining the wages of the hired servants is divers ways committed.
1. When the hireling’s wages are stopped altogether under some colourable pretence and intended matter, not right, not true, not just, but deceitful.
2. Moreover, this cruelty is done, and sin committed, when the wages are deceitfully deferred longer than the poor can well spare it.
3. Men become guilty hereof also when, through fraud, they misreckon the poor hireling being simple, or ally ways diminish of the wages of the labourer.
4. Finally, by changing the wages of the servant and workman to their hurt and damage.
5. To conclude, this sin is mightily amplified in that the cry thereof is said to ascend and come to the cars of the Lord of hosts. Here God is called the Lord of hosts, which attribute is oftentimes given unto Him because He hath all His creatures always ready as an innumerable and infinite host to fight at His pleasure against the wicked for the maintenance of His glory and defence of His servants. They shall be glad to do His commandment, and when need is they shall be ready upon earth, and when their hour is come they shall not overpass the commandment. St. James, therefore, partly for the terror of the wicked, who in due time shall feel the weight of His revenging hand, and partly for the comfort of His afflicted servants whose wages wicked men hold back by fraud, calleth Almighty God the Lord of hosts, as having a power always prepared, and an army evermore in readiness, to fight against His enemies and to defend His saints. Now, if the cries of their detained wages which work in our bodily and earthly harvest be entered into the ears of the Lord of hosts, how much more fearful judgment shall be pronounced against them--under how wretched condition are they who, by fraud or by force, keep back the wages of them that labour in the heavenly and spiritual harvest of the Lord? who sow the furrows of your hearts with the Divine seed of the Word of truth, and should reap the increase of their labours with great joyfulness. The first evil then in this place condemned is their fraudulent detaining of their labourers’ wages, the cry whereof entered into the ears of the Lord of hosts. This second evil and sin for which the apostle threateneth their destruction to the wicked is their sensuality and carnal life, which consisteth briefly in three thing.
3. Riotousness and excessive banqueting.
1. Pleasure here signifieth the deliciousness of men in this life, whereunto they give themselves that they, faring deliciously every day, may spend their time and life in pleasure like Epicures, by the which they are not only condemned as injurious unto others, but also are accused as misspending that which they detain from their workmen upon their own pleasures and delights.
2. Their sensuality also showeth itself in the wantonness of their lives, whereby carnal uncleanness is understood (Romans 13:13). Thereunto also most rich men are given. For riches minister matter of living deliciously; delicious living pricketh forward to fleshliness and bodily uncleanness. St. Cyril saith: “In those which flow in prosperity, honour, and all worldly wealth, there is a sting of desire of deliciousness more vehement, and the mind moved with concupiscence is (as it were)carried away with the whole bridle, none staying it.”
3. Of their sensuality the last and third branch is that they nourished their hearts as in the day of slaughter. Whereby their continual study to banquet and make merry is noted that their whole life might be, as it were, a continual day of feasting, by which they grew as fat as pork or brawn for Satan the devil to feed on in the day of judgment. The Hebrews call the days of feasting the days of slaughter, because at great feasts there is great killing, great slaughter. Calves from the stall, sheep from the fold, oxen from the pasture, kids from the goats, lambs from the ewes, deer from the forest, buck from the chase, fish from the sea, fowl from the fen, birds from the air, capons from the coop, pheasant from the wood, partridge from the covey, rabbit from the warren, and infinite the like are then slam to be devoured. The third sin and evil for which these men are subject to this judgment is their cruelty, which in these two things appeareth.
1. That they condemn the righteous men.
2. That they condemn them not only, but slay them when they make no resistance.
1. The wicked men of this world condemn the righteous at their pleasures, they give what sentence they lust against the just and godly men, they judge the innocent at their wills, if in all things they do not please them, which is great cruelty and a thing abominable before God (Proverbs 17:15).
2. Neither do these only wrongfully judge and condemn the righteous, but also they slay him, and he resisteth them not, this is fierceness and intolerable cruelty. Now, the righteous are slain divers ways.
(1) In heart by hatred, “He that hateth his brother in his heart is a murderer,” saith St. John.
(2) In tongue by slander, therefore Christ containeth it under the nature of murder, making it subject to like judgment
(3) By denying help in their misery wherein we suffer them to perish without succour.
(4) When by fraud or force, when by greedy courteousness or cruel extortion, whereby our hands are imbued by the blood of our brethren we take or hold from them, that which is their own; whereby, as much as in us lieth, we murder them.
(5) When, finally, we bereave men of their lives, which all agree with this place of St. James, and are found in the rich wicked men of this world. For--
1. They hate the godly poor men in their hearts.
2. They slander them with their tongues.
3. They withdraw their helping hands from them.
4. They detain their right from them.
5. And, to conclude, they cause their lives oftentimes to be taken from them, who, albeit themselves by themselves, do not always these things; yet by their means and power these are done, therefore are they said to do it.
Finally, there are times and seasons when by repelling force by force it is lawful to resist. When Christians are so narrowly bestead and so straightly beset with their enemies, as that they cannot have the aid of civil powers and lawful magistrates of the commonwealth, but must either resist by force, or be in danger of the loss of their lives and goods without all recovery or recompense; in such a case to resist I hold it lawful altogether. So that it be done in a moderate defence of ourselves, without private malice or desire of shedding of blood. (R. Turnbull.)
Sins of the wealthy
The three most important things about a man’s wealth are these: How it was obtained; how it was enjoyed; how it is used. Lucre is not filthy itself; but if obtained by unjust means it becomes filthy lucre; or if it be enjoyed selfishly, lavishly, and carnally, it becomes filthy lucre; or if employed to carry out crafty and wicked designs by corrupting men to become instruments for evil in the hands of its owner, it is filthy lucre. It is to men who have so obtained and employed wealth that James calls out in tones of tremendous warning. In the midst of the shouts of their revelry he calls them to weep, in words spoken in tones of the old prophets (see Isaiah 13:1-22.). It is a call to arouse them from their self-contentment and self--sufficiency; dispositions frequently caused by great riches. He prophesies that miseries are coming upon them. He seems to hear the footfall of the approaching days of misery--misery that could not be warded off by all the wealth which they had gathered around them. In the picturesque phrases which follow, James alludes to the various kinds of wealth in his day. If a man acquired wealth beyond his own house and garden, what was he to do with it? There were three classes of things in which he ordinarily invested it--grain, clothes, and gold and silver coin. The first might be used in several ways. It might be stored for a rise in breadstuffs, something like our modern “corners in grain”; or it might be transported and sold; or it might be kept stored in vaults for the owner’s use if there should come at any time a famine or a war. With such wealth one might say (Luke 12:19), When the calamities came, the grain, which had been kept up at a high price, thus increasing the suffering of the poor, had become rotten in the bins. Another form of accumulation was in the shape of costly raiment, and even of plainer garments in greater quantities. In our day this kind of accumulation is almost unknown, because the fashions are so constantly varying. Not so then. As the prizes taken in ancient wars, we often hear of fine garments as amongst the treasures. In regard to that species of wealth James said: “Your garments have become moth-eaten”; and so he said of coin: “Your gold and silver are rusted.” Long kept out of circulation, and thus increasing the embarrassment of society, they had become spotted in the secret and safe places where they bad been concealed. The words of James must have brought back to his readers the exhortation of Christ (Matthew 6:19-20). He announced to them that the rust of their money should rise up against them and condemn them, and come down upon them and punish them, that is, should eat into them, with an agony that should be like the burning of one’s flesh; for their avarice, which had led them to such great injustice, which had warmed their hearts and burned out their neighbours, should be in them like the flaming fire. Here, again, we have the old prophetic thunder (Psalms 21:9; Isaiah 10:16; Jeremiah 5:14; Ezekiel 15:7; Ezekiel 28:18). To the Jews who lived when James wrote, this soon came to be literally true; for their substance and their flesh were destroyed when the city and the temple were burned. Josephus tells us that the flames consumed their dead bodies and their substance and their wardrobes. Whatever was spared from the flames fell into the hands of the Romans; and so it came to pass that the treasures which had been heaped up to produce for thrum a long season of quiet and comfort were all swept away; for they had planted their seed in a garden that lay over the heart of a volcano which was soon to burst. Their doing was aggravated by the injustice they bad used in the accumulation of their hoarded property. They had violated the law of justice and, as well, the law of benevolence, and had broken the precept of Moses (Leviticus 19:13; Leviticus 24:14-15). Perhaps there is no portion of the denunciation which could be brought home to the modern Christian community more decisively than this. The crying sin against the rich in every large city is the sin of keeping back the hire which belongs to the labourers. In addition to covetousness and oppression, James presents to the conscience the sin of voluptuousness. Supposing a certain amount of enjoyment to be possible to any one man in his lifetime, it is plain that the excesses of one day make drafts upon another day; it may be, upon all days. If he have a thousand days to live, and ten thousand dollars be put at his command, it is plain that he will have the purchasing power of ten dollars for every day in his life. But if he spend fifty dollars a day in the first hundred days, it is quite plain that he would have less than six dollars a day during the remaining nine hundred. And if he spend a hundred dollars a day for the first hundred days, the remaining nine hundred would be spent in absolute penury. This is a rigid mathematical calculation, which does not do justice to the case, for life is composed of so many factors, and each man has so many faculties and connections that an impairment of a man is a wider injury than the removal of anything which can be represented by numbers. To these destructive excesses great wealth tempts any man, no matter what may be his moral qualities. The fourth sin with which James charges the rich, the worldly, and the wanton Jews of his day, is the oppression of the righteous, even to the taking of their lives. If the application of the verse be made either to the good in general, or to the Lord Jesus in particular, there is something very striking in the omission of the conjunction, “Ye have condemned, ye have killed, the Just,” expresses the rapidity of the action and result of their maliciousness. They seemed so afraid that after condemning a good man He should escape slaughter, that they hurried up His death, although, as a lamb before the shearers is dumb, He opened not His mouth. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)
The moral evils of wealth
I am obliged to regard with considerable distrust the influence of wealth upon individuals. I know that it is a mere instrument, which may be converted to good or bad ends. I know that it is often used for good ends; but I more than doubt whether the chances lead that way. Independence and luxury are not likely to be good for any man. Leisure and luxury are almost always bad for every man. I know that there are noble exceptions. But I have seen so much of the evil effect of wealth upon the mind--making it proud, haughty, and impatient; robbing it of its simplicity, modesty, and humility; bereaving it of its large, and gentle, and considerate humanity; and I have heard such astonishing testimonies, to the same effect, from those whose professional business is to settle and adjust the affairs of estates--that I more and more distrust its boo, steal advantages. I deny the validity of that boast. In truth, I am sick of the world’s admiration of wealth. Almost all the noblest things that have been achieved in the world have been achieved by poor men; poor scholars and professional men; poor artisans and artists; poor philosophers, and poets, and men of genius. (Orville Dowry.)
A philosopher has said, “Though a man without money is poor, a man with nothing but money is still poorer.” Worldly gifts cannot bear up the spirits from fainting and sinking when trials and troubles come, no more than headache can be cured by a golden crown, or toothache by a chain of pearls. “Earthly riches are full of poverty.”
The ingenuousness of fraud
Some frauds succeed from the apparent candour, the open confidence, and the full blaze of ingenuousness that is thrown around them. The slightest mystery would excite suspicion and ruin all. Such stratagems may be compared to the stars: they are discoverable by darkness, and hidden only by light. (C. Colton.)
The greedy disposition
The king vulture will not permit any other bird to begin its meal until his own hunger is satisfied. The same habit may be seen in many other creatures, including some men, the more powerful lording it over the weaker, and leaving them only the remains of the feast instead of permitting them to partake of it on equal terms. If the king vulture should not happen to be present when the dead animal has reached a state of decomposition, which renders it palatable to vulterine tastes, the subject vultures would pay but little regard to the privileges of their absent monarch, and would leave him but a slight prospect of getting a meal on the remains of the feast. Thus the greedy disposition, whether in the high or low, never concerns itself about the want of others. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)
The father-lasher, or lucky proach, is a big-headed, wide-mouthed, staring-eyed little fish. Every atom of meat that you drop into the water within the range of his vision must be his; you perhaps intended the morsel for the goby or the blenny, but proach sees it, and proach must have it. They, indeed, may sail up towards the speck, but proach dashes up, bristling with indignation at their temerity, and snaps the food from their very noses. Not one of them can get a bit till preach is satiated, and I have often seen him lie with a morsel projecting from his mouth for some time, absolutely incapable of swallowing more, before he would relinquish the contest. (P. H. Gosse, in “Good Words.”)
The unscrupulous money-getter
The unscrupulous money-getter is not necessarily an able man. On the contrary, he often appears dull and stupid. But he is rapacious, cruel, and cunning, and he owes his success to these qualities. Notwithstanding the applause with which society greets his performances, they have much the same inspiration as those of the glutton. The glutton is thought but a dull animal, but his mode of catching deer shows much the same proportion of intelligence as that which is exhibited by the money-getter, or by the Arctic fox when he arranges cods’ heads as baits to catch crows. The glutton climbs into a tree in the neighbourhood of a herd, carrying up with him a quantity of a kind of moss of which the deer are fond, and when be sees any one of the herd approaching, he lets a portion of the moss fall. If the deer stops to eat, the glutton instantly descends on its back, and torments it by tearing out its eyes and other violence to such a degree that, either to get rid of its enemy, or to put an end to its sufferings, it beats its head against the trees till it falls down dead; for when the glutton has once fixed himself by his claws and teeth, it is impossible to dislodge him. After killing the deer he divides the flesh into convenient portions, and conceals them in the earth for future provision. In this he shows himself to be as prudential as the money-getter, who at the end of a nefarious financial success places his profits in various securities, and the balance in his bank for future use. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)
Ye have lived in pleasure
“A day of slaughter!” What “day of slaughter”? Who are slaughtered? The answer is in the context. The poor are slaughtered. The labourers whose hire is kept back by fraud. The luxury of the few is always obtained by the slaughter of the many. The few cannot live delicately on the earth without directly or indirectly keeping back by fraud the hire of the labourer. In a word, we ate all so tightly bound together in the bundle of life that extravagant expenditure anywhere always involves starvation somewhere else. Prodigality at one end of the scale must mean pauperism at the other end. What pestiferous delusion is more widely accepted than the notion that the extravagant expenditure of the rich is good for trade? How often have I heard people condemn the Queen of England because she does not spend more time in London holding costly leyden and drawing-rooms and concerts. Now, there is no doubt that if she wasted her money as most monarchs do, she would bring a great deal of temporal prosperity to some of our West-end tradesmen. But when we think of it, that temporary prosperity of the comparative few would be a great loss to the nation as a whole. Let me take a concrete example of this. The Queen holds a drawing-room. A young lady of high rank and of great wealth is to be “presented.” For this purpose she procures a court dress, which, with all its finery and lace and jewellery, is worth, say, £400. That sum of money has been calculated by a great authority to be the equivalent of 50,000 hours of labour--labour of the most tedious kind and fatal to the eyes. What is the advantage of expenditure of that luxurious sort? This poor, vain child wears it once or twice, and then the fruits of all that arduous toil is thrown away. Now, suppose the dressmakers and others had spent those 50,000 hours in making cheap, warm, and beautiful dresses for the half-clad and starving poor. Would they not have added a deal more to the sum of human health and happiness? Let us take another example. Some time ago a friend of mine was in the provinces, and was driving along the road near one of the great provincial palaces which belong to the British nobility. He began to speak of the aristocratic family who owned that estate. “Ah,” said the man who was driving him, “we used to have a great deal of aristocratic company coming down here, and much money was spent on dinner-parties and wines. There was plenty of amusement. But now that the property has fallen into the hands of the heir, there is no more of that, and everything is going to the bad.” Now, from this man’s narrow point of view it appeared a dreadful matter that the old state of things was not continued. But look at the other side of the picture. The owner of that estate had also a very large property, inhabited by the poor, in one of the most miserable parts of London, full of public houses and hovels where the people were living in abject misery. The estate had been neglected for generations. Now, in the old time, when a handful of the rural tradesman were making money out of the prodigality and extravagance of the owner of the property, this London estate was utterly’ neglected, and thousands of the poor were suffering untold agonies. But the present owner having a conscience and being a Christian, instead of using the revenue for the purpose of diffusing a little trade among a handful of people in the country, is living a quiet life in a very simple home, and is using all the resources of her property to blot out the liquor-shops and the houses of infamy, and to build proper dwellings for the poor, where for generations they have been occupying hovels. Although a handful of people in a remote part of the provinces may suffer a certain amount of loss, it is an untold gain to thousands of people and to the human race that the wealth of that great property is no longer wasted in the old way. It is impossible to waste and save at the same time. Luxury and economy are as diametrically opposed as darkness and light. Luxury is any expenditure that is both costly and superfluous. I do not say a word about any little superfluity that does not cost much and which may give as much pleasure as it is worth. But when the superfluity is a very costly one, then it becomes a luxury, and must be denounced by every Christian and by every lover of the human race. It is astonishing what ingenious arguments have been used from time to time in defence of luxury. It has been argued, for example, that luxury is necessary to keep machinery at work. But, as Laveleye says, the object of machinery is to give us more leisure as well as more products. It is quite clear that in the better times which are coming we must not only give fair wages for every piece of work done, but we must also give men leisure to spend with their families, and to cultivate the higher aims of life. But there is another reply to this argument, and it is this. The money which is saved from luxury will give much more employment to machinery in other and healthier directions than it now gives in doubtful ways. It is very important in this particular discussion to remember that money is not hoarded now. If a man happens to have a good deal of money he does not bury it; that money is saved. When economy has saved money it is spent in employing labour. That is always a great gain to the human race. This brings us to the point from which we started, and is a fresh refutation of the delusion that luxury is good for trade. A distinguished French economist tells a good anecdote about himself, and shows how he discovered that prodigality was not an advantage to the human race; that it was an absolute and total delusion; and that the human race has no deadlier enemy than the spendthrift. On one occasion, when M. Say was a young man, he went to dine with his uncle, who produced some exceeding beautiful wineglasses, which he subsequently broke into pieces. He justified this extraordinary conduct by saying that every one must get a living, and he thought that by destroying his wineglasses he was a benefactor of the human race. That is a very simple illustration, but it precisely illustrates a widespread delusion which exists in West London, that waste and extravagance and destruction are beneficial and make trade. It was, of course, a matter of fact that if he broke six wineglasses it was to the benefit of some one in the neighbourhood, for he sent a servant the next day to buy some more. This incident set young Say thinking. “If my uncle is really doing good, he had better proceed to smash all his crockery, and then to smash all his furniture, and then all the glass in the windows of his house; for glaziers, painters, and carpenters would be employed; and from this point of view his destructiveness would be a great benefit.” When the argument is worked out, every one sees that there must be some delusion in it. If waste is for the good of trade, those Communists who set fire to many of the finest buildings in Paris were great benefactors. It has employed thousands of masons and painters to replace those buildings. Yes, but when you reflect, the answer is this: If none of this destruction had taken place, the money that has been used by the French Government to restore the public monuments, schools, and museums that were burnt would still be at their disposal, and might have been used to pay for other monuments, schools, railways, and museums. They would have retained their old property and had other property as well. Money is never well spent except, first, when it satisfies real human wants, and secondly, when it makes permanent improvements. (H. P. Hughes, M. A.)
Living in pleasure
1. A sin very natural to us. There were but two common parents of all mankind--Adam the protoplast, and Noah the restorer, and both miscarried by appetite: the one fell by eating, and the other by drinking. We had need be careful (Luke 21:34).
2. The sin is natural to all, but chiefly incident to the rich. There is, I confess, a difference in tempers; wealth maketh some covetous, and others prodigal; but the usual sin in the rich is luxury. Pride, idleness, and fulness of bread were the sins of Sodom, and they are usually found in great men’s houses; they should be the more wary.
3. Though delicate living be a sin incident to wealthy men, yet their abundance doth not excuse it. God gave wealth for another purpose than to spend it in pleasures. Intemperance is odious to God, be it in any whatsoever they be.
4. Luxury is living in pleasure. God alloweth us to use pleasures, but not to live in them; to take delights, but not they should take us; to live always at the full is but a wanton luxury. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Aggravations of luxury
St. James’ words here are of a highly tragical character, and therefore the sentences are brief, abrupt, concise, and broken; the graphic metaphor reminds us of the style of the outpourings of Hosea. The difficulty here, as in other examples of the same kind of composition, is to catch the logical relation of the thoughts expressed, and trace out the consecutiveness of the clauses. He had charged them with laying up riches “in the last days.” There his purpose was to point out their folly with reference to the time in which they were engaged in their ungodly gain. Now he proceeds to show where they were doing this, in the land, the land of Israel, which was on the very point of being given over to the avenger. In the former chapter the visiting of the city by the rich for the purposes of gain had been adverted to, now he supposes them ripen the spot, and the day of vengeance at hand. Jerusalem was the central spot on which the thunderbolt was about to fall that would paralyse all Israel, Hebrews and Hellenists. As a matter of history it is well known that vast numbers of the Dispersion were involved in the catastrophe of the holy city. This passage, however, though addressed to, and by direct implication comprising the Dispersion, yet evidently conveys a prophetic warning and denunciation against the whole family of Israel, on whom the judgment was about to descend. (F. T. Bassett, M. A.)
End of gaiety
A Parisian gentleman who had educated his daughter Ninon for the gay world, on his death-bed thus addressed her, “Draw near, Ninon: you see that nothing more remains for me than the sad remembrance of those enjoyments which I am about to quit for ever. But, alas! my regrets are as useless as vain; you, who will survive me, must make the best of your precious time”
Poison in pleasures
It is said to have been a plan sometimes practised in the Middle Ages, to send poisoned flowers to princes or great persons, when a plot was laid against their life. Whether the fact be true or not, the moral it may suggest is true. (New Cyclopoedia of Illustration.)
A warning to the rich
A nobleman who lived in the neighbourhood of the Rev. Mr. D--, one day asked him to dine with him. Before dinner they walked into the garden, and after viewing the various productions and rarities with which it abounded, his lordship exclaimed, “Well, Mr. D--, you see I want for nothing; and I have all that my heart can wish for.” As Mr. D--made no reply, but appeared thoughtful, his lordship asked him the reason. “Why, my lord, a man may have all these things, and go to hell after all.” The words powerfully struck the nobleman, and through the blessing of God terminated in his conversion.
Take care of pleasure
It is said that where the most beautiful cacti grow, there the venomous serpents are to be found at the root of every plant. And it is so with sin. Your fairest pleasures will harbour your grossest sins. Take care, take care, of your pleasures. Cleopatra’s asp was introduced in a basket of flowers: so are our sins often brought to us in the flowers of our pleasure. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Sodden with pleasure
“A soul sodden with pleasure” is a lost soul. (J. C. Lees, D. D.)
Think not that a pleasure which God hath threatened, nor that a blessing which God hath cursed. (Quarles)
The pleasures of sense will surfeit, and not satisfy; the pleasures of religion will satisfy, but not surfeit. (Henry.)
The pleasures of sense and of religion
He buys honey too dear who licks it from thorns. Xerxes offered a reward to the man who would invent a new pleasure.
Living in pleasure
Ye have lain melting in sensual delights, which have drawn out your spirits and dissolved them. (J. Trapp.)
Ye have nourished your hearts
Pleasures nourish the heart, and fatten it into a senseless stupidity: nothing bringeth a dulness upon it more than they. There is a fish which they call the ass-fish, which hath its heart in its belly; a fit emblem of a sensual epicure. The heart is never more dull and unfit for the severities and masculine heights of religion than when burdened with luxurious excess; therefore Christ useth that expression, “Let not your hearts be overcharged,” etc. (Luke 21:36). Ah! do but consider how many reasons we have to be wary in our pleasures. Will the inconveniences they bring to your estates mow you? “He that loveth corn, and wine, and oil, shall be poor” (Proverbs 23:21). How often hath the belly brought the back to rags? Or will the mischiefs they bring upon the body move you? Lust, which is but the last end and consummation of all pleasures, sucketh the bones, and, like a cannibal, eateth your own flesh (Proverbs 5:11). Ah! but chiefly think of the inconveniency which your precious souls sustain; your hearts will be nourished and fattened. Pleasure infatuateth the mind, quencheth the radiancy and vigour of the spirit, the generous sprightliness of the affections. So the apostle speaketh of persons given to pleasures, that they are past feeling (Ephesians 4:1-32.); they have lost all the smartness and tenderness of their spirits. Oh! that men would regard this, and take heed of nourishing their hearts while they nourish their bodies. You should starve lust when you feed nature; or, as Austin, come to your meat as your medicine, and use these outward refreshments as remedies to cure infirmities, not to cause them; or, as Bernard, refresh the soul when you feed the body, and by Christian meditations on God’s bounty, Christ’s sweetness, the fatness of God’s house, &c., keep the heart from being nourished whenever you repair nature. (T. Manton.)
Running to death
Alas! the greatest part of this world run to the place of torment, rejoicing, and dancing, eating, drinking, and sleeping. (S. Rutherford.)
Ye have condemned and killed the just
The true meaning is found, it is believed, in taking “the just” as the representatives of a class, probably of the class of those who, as disciples of Christ, the Just One, were reproducing His pattern of righteousness. Such an one, like his Master, and like Stephen, St. James adds, takes as his law the rule of not resisting. He submits patiently, certain that in the end he will be more than conqueror. It is not without interest to note that the title was afterwards applied to St. James himself. The name Justus (Acts 1:23; Acts 18:7; Colossians 4:11) was evidently the Latin equivalent of this epithet, and it probably answered to the Chasidim or Assideans of an earlier stage of Jewish religious history. It is as if a follower of George Fox had addressed the judges and clergy of Charles II’sreign, and said to them, “Ye persecuted the friend, and he does not resist you.” (Dean Plumptre.)
Taking advantage of meekness
Meekness of spirit commonly draws on injuries and indignities from unreasonable men. A crow will stand on a sheep’s back, pulling off the wool from his side; she durst not do so to a wolf or mastiff. (J. Trapp.)
The husbandman waiteth
Persuasives to patience
Here the apostle inculcates--
A PATIENCE THAT, IN THE CONSCIOUSNESS THAT LIFE RIPENS, WAITS. This is taught in the allusion made to harvest. The husbandman waits. He waits from the season of the autumnal till after the vernal rains. These rains, and all the ripening influences of sun and earth succeed each other in unhastened order, tie waits for what is worth the waiting. To him the clusters of the grape, the sheaves of the corn, are “precious fruit.” And all the time he waits, he knows that the ripening process is going on.
1. The human race advances to maturity. Notwithstanding the blight of its early spring, and the many perils of all its seasons, the great Restorer points to its harvest when He says, “Then cometh the end.”
2. Our individual life is under the same law, the law of growth. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Every life ripens, every life tends to and culminates in a harvest. Towards it in all our seasons we are advancing. To the Christian man the produce, the result of his ever-ripening life, will be in its habits, experiences, and fellowships, a harvest of “precious fruit.” Even now he reads pages of his own inner history, which prove that “tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope.”
II. A. PATIENCE THAT, BY THE HOPE THAT CHRIST WILL COME, IS UPHELD. The expression of patience at which we have been looking is that of a somewhat spiritless resignation. Now we are summoned to a fortitude prepared for all that may happen. “Stablish your hearts.” The Septuagint uses the word translated “stablish” to describe the upbearing of the hands of Moses by Aaron and Hur on the mountain. Those two men sustained the prophet’s arms from hour to hour till the war was over, and the victory won. So there is a hope which our patience, though often like Moses’ hands thus heavy, may be upheld. What hope?” That the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” The “coming of the Lord” may mean at least one of the three things:
1. His coming in some special dispensation of Providence.
2. His coming to judge the world.
3. His coming at our death.
III. A PATIENCE THAT IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST’S PRESENCE IS UNMURMURING. “The Judge standeth before the door,” and though Judge, it is He who was the “Man of sorrows,” the “despised and rejected of men.” Does not His history, from the stable to the Cross, shame our murmurs? “The Judge standeth before the door,” and knows the circumstances and deserts of us all. Before we judge others we need that our eye should, like Christ’s, search souls as well as circumstances, and that our hand, like His, should weigh character as well as condition. “The Judge standeth before the door,” and will rightly reward our destiny. Dare we anticipate His sentence? Need we?
IV. A PATIENCE THAT IN THE SENSE OF ITS FELLOWSHIPS REJOICES. High among the heroes of the good stand the prophets. Having held communion with God, they have turned to the world of men, and charged with God-given thoughts, have stood and taught in His stead. Thus, theirs has been the dignity not of mere nobility, nor royalty, but of Divinity. Their sufferings have become as famous as their mission--so famous that we are bidden to take them as examples of “suffering affliction.” In our sufferings, therefore, we can look round to those that have “spoken in the name of the Lord,” and wonderingly ask one and another of them, “Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us?” But as eminent as their sorrows is their endurance. When we think of them we reckon them not as sad, unfortunate, pitiable. Listening to the voice that on the mountain pronounced who among men are “blessed,” we know that these prophets are indeed blessed.
V. A PATIENCE THAT THROUGH CONFIDENCE IN GOD’S CHARACTER IS ALLCONQUERING. The expression, “The end of Lord,” may mean one of two things, either of which reveals Him as being “very pitiful and of tender mercy.”
1. It may mean the termination to which God brings sorrow. For illustration of this, perhaps, Job’s name is cited.
2. Or it may mean the object of the Lord in permitting sorrows. Well has it been said that “it is rough work that polishes. Look at the pebbles on the shore! Far inland, where some arm of the sea thrusts itself deep in the bosom of the land and expanding into a salt loch, lies girdled by the mountains, sheltered from the storms that agitate the deep, the pebbles on the beach are rough, not beautiful--angular, not rounded. It is where long white lines of breakers roar, and the rattling shingle is rolled about the strand, that its pebbles are rounded and polished. As in nature, as in the arts, so in the grace: it is rough treatment that gives souls, as well as stones, their lustre. The more the diamond is cut, the brighter it sparkles; and in what seems hard dealing, their God has no end in view but to perfect His people’s graces.” (U. R. Thomas.)
Are missions a failure?
It is a matter of common remark that Christian missions are often looked upon somewhat coldly even by well-disposed people. The main reason for this coldness is, at least in very many cases, a mistaken estimate of what missions can be reasonably expected to achieve. Now the first point to be observed in this estimate of what missions can be expected to do, is that it is the natural product of one feature of the temper of our day. The human mind is largely influenced by the outward circumstances of the successive forms of civilisation in which it finds itself; and within the last half century railroads and telegraphs have successively altered human habits of thought in more respects than one. We assume that the rate at which we travel and send messages must necessarily have its counterpart in all meritorious forms of human effort; and in this way we accustom ourselves to regard rapidity in producing results as a necessary test of good work--a test failure to satisfy which is not easily, if at all, atoned for by other tokens of excellence. This impatience of delay in production may have its advantages in certain limited districts of activity. But is it not a mistake to assume that all forms of human effort are improved by this acceleration of pace, or, indeed, that they will adapt themselves to it? Take art, and consider the old and true saying, “Time is short and art is long.” Do what we will, art cannot be hurried. Even if a painter or a sculptor creates with great rapidity this or that masterpiece, the rapidity is limited to the moment of production; the real preparation which has enabled him to project the idea, and has perfected the methods of expressing it, is the work of a lifetime, and rare, indeed, are the occasions when even a great artist can produce rapidly and to order. Or take literature. As a rule, the composition of a great poem, or history, or treatise, which shall live extends over many years, not because the mechanical labour involved formally in writing out a considerable work requires a great deal of time, but especially because to produce anything that shall have on it the stamp of maturity requires time stilt more urgently--time for redressing, so far as may be possible, some defects whichnecessarily attach to the first effort at production, time to reconsider what is ill-judged, to supply what is deficient, to anticipate in some degree the sentence which an impartial posterity would pass upon a composition in its original crudity. Now, to-day, we are remarking how this impatience for immediate results which marks our time extends itself beyond those activities which are mainly or wholly human, and claims to mould and to govern undertakings in which God is the main agent, and man only God’s instrument. Only here the impatient demand is apt to meet with a different kind of reception from there. Artists and men of letters adjust their work to the temper of the day, but the Eternal Workman heeds not the varying moods and fashions of the creature whom He has made, and, in spite of the demand for rapid production, is at this hour as slow and as sure in His work as at any past time in history. A mission is essentially a work in which man counts for little, although his active exertion is imperatively necessary. In a mission, the influences which fertilise human effort, and the date at which this fertilisation shall take place, are alike in the hands of God. When this is felt, it will be felt also that an order, so to describe it, upon a given mission for so many converts, at least, within such and such time, is an indefensible thing. But St. James in the text supplies us with an illustration which may enable us to see this more clearly. What “the coming of the Lord” certainly means in this passage may be open to discussion. Our Lord comes to us in blessings and in judgments, and St. James may be thinking of some political or social event which would put a stop to the oppressions of which his correspondents had complained; or he may be thinking of our Lord’s second coming to judgment: But either coming, St. James implies, is in this respect like the natural harvest--that while man’s activity leads up to it, it depends on agencies which are beyond man’s control. When St. James points to the presence and operation of God in nature, every countryman in Syria would have understood him. The corn was sown in September; in October there came the early rain, which made the seed sprout; the latter rain fell, as a rule, in March or the beginning of April, in time to make the ears swell before they ripened. In a soil of remarkable fertility, but generally of no great depth, spread as it was over the limestone rock, everything depended on the two rainfalls. The husbandman could only prepare the soil and sow the seed: the rest he must leave to God; and St. James dwells on the long patience with which, as a rule, a Syrian peasant waited for the precious fruit of the earth, and for the rainfall which was so necessary to its growth. And his language illustrates an old observation, that, as a rule, people who live in the country are more religious--by which I mean more constantly alive to the presence and the working of Almighty God--than are people who live in towns. The habit of Watching God in Nature is of itself a lesson in the school of faith. If anything is clear about God’s work in nature, it is that it proceeds gradually, that it cannot be precipitated. This truth finds, perhaps, unintentional expression in the modern word of which we hear so much--evolution. One period in the earth’s earliest condition introduces to another; one phase of natural life leads on to the confines of another; this epoch of human history is the parent of much that first emerges to view in that--the truth being that the one presiding and controlling Mind is throughout at work, never ceasing from, never hesitating about His task, and that eternal wisdom which reaches from one end to another mightily and sweetly doth order all things. And in nature, so, as St. James implies, it is in grace. Man does his part; he sows the word of life, he prepares the soil, he plants with St. Paul, he waters with Apollos, but he can do no more, and God, who sends the early and the latter rain, alone gives the increase. So it is in the history of individuals when that great change takes place which is called conversion, whether from error to truth or from ungodliness of life to obedience of Christ. St. Augustine tells us that long before the change which was precipitated by his reading the passage in the Epistle to the Romans he had met with teachers, events, examples which had set him thinking. He put those thoughts aside, but they returned. He again dismissed them; again they came back to him. He was, in truth, ill at ease; his Manichean creed, his dissolute life were the husks on which this prodigal son long fed, but those husks had a work of disenchantment to do, though time was needed in which to do it, and at last this preparatory process was over. The hesitations, the misgivings, the yearnings, the relapses, the near approaches to grace, and the shrinkings back from grace had all come to an end; the fruit had ripened, whereby the Christian Church received the greatest of her teachers since St. Paul. And so, too, in the history of societies. It took three centuries to convert the Roman empire to Christianity, if, indeed, we may rightly so describe the numerical superiority, for it was not much more, on the part of the Christians at the end of the first quarter of the fourth century of our era. And yet even so described what a wonderful work it was! Three centuries before such a result would have seemed impossible to any man of sense and judgment. In view of these natural analogies, and of this history, let us turn once more to the modern demand that so many missionaries shall produce in such and such a time so many converts, and to the impatience, if not the indignation, which is felt or expressed if this expectation is not realised, as though something had taken place which was akin to a commercial fraud. What is this modern way of looking at missions but an endeavour to apply to the kingdom of Divine grace those rules of investment and return which are most properly kept in view in a house of commerce? Do you not see that this demand leaves God, the Great Missionary of all, out of the calculation? God has His own times for pouring out His Spirit, His own methods of silent preparation, His own measures of speed and of delay, and He does not take missionaries or the promoters of missionary societies into His confidence. He has a larger outlook than they, and more comprehensive plans, and whether He gives or withholds His gifts, of this we may be sure, in view of the truest and broadest interests of His spiritual kingdom: we appeal to His bounty, but we can but do as He bids us, and abide His time. Not that this reverent patience in waiting for God’s blessing is any excuse whatever for relaxing the zealous activity with which missionary efforts should be prosecuted by the Church of God. The husbandman does not the less plough the soil or the less sow the seed because he is uncertain whether his labour will be followed by the early and the latter rain. If he does not plough and sow he knows that the rain will be useless at least to him. It is quite possible for a secret indifference to the interests of Christ and His kingdom to veil itself under the garb of reverence, to refuse to help the work of Christian missions because we do not know how far God will promote a particular mission; but that is only one of the many forms of self-deceit which we Christians too often employ in order to evade Christian duties. Duties are for us, the results with God. (Canon Liddon.)
I. BEHOLD THE CONTINUED AND PERSEVERING DILIGENCE WHICH PRECEDED THE EXERCISE OF THE HUSBANDMAN’S PATIENCE, HOW various and multiplied are his labours: he ploughed, dressed, fallowed, sowed, harrowed, his fields--and for what?--to wait until the softened furrows should allow the tender grain to sprout. Can you behold his preparatory efforts without emotion? Alas I we are verily guilty in this matter. What little diligence have we evinced--how disconnected have our toils been--how unwilling to repeat the effort, which appears pretentious!
II. MAKE THE SUBMISSIVE ACQUIESCENCE WITH WHICH HE EXPECTS THE PROMISED ISSUE OF HIS LABOURS. He, indeed, knows not which field shall best prosper, or whether both shall be alike good; but he quietly, and without distraction, waits the arrival of spring, when the tender herb shall appear. And shall he be wiser in his worldly ways than you, who are the husbandmen of the Most High? In providential concerns you are perplexed, and your fears are many; but why be careful for the morrow? Of what avail is this tumult of mind, this agitation of spirit? Under tedious delays, does this rebellion of heart do other than increase your misery? Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord; observe how the husbandman waits, how deep is the conviction that impatience will never accelerate his harvest. Moreover, in your case, your hopes are delayed by this temper. Suffer not your fears-I had almost, but for pity, said, your follies--to triumph. You are no proper judge of the length of time you have waited: every minute has been to you as an hour, or as a year. You misjudge the motive of his delay; it is, that he may commend your patience, as well as reward your labours.
III. OBSERVE THE ANXIETY WITH WHICH THE HUSBANDMAN EXPECTS THE SPRINGING OF THE CORN. Man is prone to extremes; if he may not be impatient, he thinks he must be indifferent; if he is condemned for standing still, he runs like some restive horse which will either not stir, or furiously gallop. But the farmer unites the two; though not impatient, he is far from unconcerned. Do you take an equal interest, as lively a concern, in the field you cultivate for your Great Employer? Go to the husbandman, thou careless and unconcerned parent; consider his anxieties, and be wise: recollect the domestic trust confided to you.
IV. But once more, notice the CERTAINTY characterises the patient expectation of the farmer; he waits till “he receive the early and the latter rain.” The expression may be considered as comprehending all the kindly and sweet influences of the heavens, which are necessary for the precious fruits of the earth; and have these ever been withheld? But the profits of our fields are not so certain, by many degrees of probability, as is the reward of grace which is ensnared by His promise who cannot lie.
1. Before we conclude, let our attention be directed to One who has towards us exemplified long patience; who has frequently come and sought fruit from us, and found none. You think much of waiting a few months for your crops; or if your desires are delayed for a year or two, prayer and effort are both discontinued. Has He not reason to expect abundant returns from you? What more could He have done for you?
2. Let me point you to those inferior husbandmen who fairly expected to have reaped from you the reward of their labours, and yet have hitherto waited in vain.
3. Should the expectations of the husbandman in reference to any of his fields fail, he will again plough up the land; and, notwithstanding a few sickly plants sprinkled here and there on the surface of the ground, sacrifice all his toils and hopes, and prepare it for another crop. Thus has the Great Husbandman dealt with the nations at large: their privileges have been taken from them, and given to such as bring forth the fruits thereof: and thus will He act towards individuals who trifle with the means of cultivation they enjoy. (W. Clayton.)
A visit to the harvest field
The earth that yields seed to the sower and bread to the eater has received its constitution from God; and it is governed through His wise providence by fixed laws that are infinitely reliable: and yet, at the same time, with such diversified conditions and minute peculiarities as may well convince us that the Almighty intended the operations of nature to supply us with spiritual instruction as well as with material good.
I. First, then, How DOES THE HUSBANDMAN WAIT? He waits with a reasonable hope for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it until he receive the early and the latter rain. He expects the harvest because he has ploughed the fields and sown the grain. Out on the folly of those who flatter their souls with a prospect of good things in time to come while they neglect the opportunity of sowing good things in the time present. They say they hope it will be well with them at the end; but, since it is not well with them now, why should they expect any change--much less a change contrary to the entire order of Providence? The husbandman waits with a reasonable hope; he does not look for grain where he has cast in garlic. Save then that thou art a fool, thou wilt like him count only on the fruit of thine own sowing. While he waits with a patient hope, he is no doubt all the more patient of the issue, because his hope is so reasonable. And not only does he wait with patience, but some stress is put upon the length of it; “and hath long patience for the precious fruit of the earth.” Now, our waiting, if it be the work of the Holy Spirit, must have this long patience in it. Are you a sufferer? There are sweet fruits to come from suffering t Have long patience for those peaceable fruits. You shall be brought out of your trouble when the discipline for which you were brought into it has been fulfilled. Have long patience, however, for not the first month does the husbandman find a harvest. If he has sown in the winter, he does not expect he will reap in the early spring: he does not go forth with his sickle in the month of May and expect to find golden sheaves. He waits. The moons wax and wane; suns rise and set; but the husbandman waits till the appointed time is come. Wait thou, O sufferer, till the night be over. Tarry thou a little longer, for if the vision tarry it shall come. Are you a worker? Then you need as much patience in working as you do in suffering. We must not expect to see immediate results in all cases from the preaching of the gospel, from the teaching of Scripture in our classes, from distributing religious literature, or from any other kind of effort. Be patient, O worker, for impatience sours the temper, chills the blood, sickens the heart prostrates the vigour of one’s spirit, and spoils the enterprise of life before it is ripe for history. Wait thou, clothed with patience, like a champion clad in steel. Wait with a sweet grace, as one who guards the faith and sets an example of humility. Wait in a right spirit, anxious, prayerful, earnest submissive to the ways of God, not doubtful of His will. Disciple of Jesus, “learn to labour and to wait.” With regard to the result of Christian obedience, the lesson is no less striking. The first thing that a farmer does by way of seeking gain on his farm is to make a sacrifice which could seem immediately to entail on him a loss. He has some good wheat in the granary, and he takes out sacks full of it and buries it. You must not expect as soon as you become a Christian, that you shall obtain all the gains of your religion, perhaps you may lose all that you have for Christ’s sake. And, while the husbandman waits, you observe in the text he waits with his eye upward, he waits until God shall send him the early and the latter rain. None but the eternal Father can send the Holy Spirit like showers on the Church. He can send the Comforter, and my labour will prosper; it will not be in vain in the Lord; but if He deny, if He withhold this covenant blessing, ah me! work is useless, patience is worthless, and all the cost is bootless: it is in vain. Note, however, that while the husbandman waits with his eye upward, he waits with his hands at work, engaged in restless toil. He cannot push on the months; he cannot hasten the time of the harvest-home; but he does not wait in silence, in sluggishness and negligence; he keeps to his work and waits too. So do you, O Christian men I wait for the coming of your Lord, but let it be with your lamps trimmed and your lights burning, as good servants. The husbandman waits under changeful circumstances, and various contingencies. Only a farmer knows how his hopes and fears alternate and fluctuate from time to time. Yet he waits, he waits with patience. Ah, when we work for God, how often will this happen! There are always changes in the field of Christian labour. At one time we see many conversions, and we bless God that there are so many seals to our testimony. But some of the converts after a while disappoint us. There was the blossom, but it produced no fruit. Then there will come a season when many appear to backslide. Some deadly heresy creeps in, and the anxious husbandman fears there will be no harvest after all. Oh, patience sir, patience. When God shall give you a rich return for all you have done for Him, you will blush to think you ever doubted; you will be ashamed to think you ever grew weary in His service.
II. WHAT DOES THE HUSBANDMAN WAIT FOR? He waits for results, for real results; right results; he hopes also rich results. And this is just what we are waiting for--waiting as sufferers for the results of sanctified affliction. Oh that we might have every virtue strengthened, every grace refined, by passing through the furnace. And you are, also, like the husbandman, waiting for a reward. All the while till the hat vest comes, he has nothing but outlay. From the moment he sows, it is all outgoing until he sells his crops, and then, recovering at once the principal and the interest, he gets his reward, in this world look not for a recompense. You may have a grateful acknowledgment in the peace, and quiet, and contentment of your own spirit, but do not expect even that from your fellow-men. Wait till the week is over, and then shall come the wage. Wait until the sun is gone down, and then there will be the penny for every labourer in the vineyard. Not vet, not yet, not yet. The husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth. This is what we wait for.
III. WHAT IS THE HUSBANDMAN’S ENCOURAGEMENT IN WAITING? The first is, that the fruit be waits for is precious. Who that walks through a cornfield where the crops are plentiful, but will say, “Well, this was, after all, worth all the trouble and all the expense, and all the long patience of that winter which is over and gone?” If the Lord should draw you near unto Himself by your affliction, if He should make His image in you more clear, it will be worth waiting for. And if, after your labours, He should give you some soul for your reward, oh, will it not repay you? We may wait, therefore, with patience, because the reward of our labour will be precious. Above all, the reward of hearing the Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” is worth waiting for I Even now to get a word from Him is quite enough to cheer us on, though it be a soft, still voice that speaks it, but oh, the joy of that loud voice “Well done.” A godly husbandman waits with patience, again, because he knows God’s covenant. God has said “seed time and harvest, summer and winter, shall not cease,” and the Christian farmer knowing this is confident. But oh, what strong confidences have we who have looked to Christ, and who are resting on the faithful word of a covenant God. He cannot fail us. It is not possible that He should suffer our faith to be confounded. The covenant stands good, the harvest must come as surely as the seed time has come. Moreover, every husbandman is encouraged by the fact that he has seen other harvests. And, O brethren, have not we multitudes of instances to confirm our confidence? Let us cheerfully resign ourselves to the Lord’s will in suffering, for as others of His saints who went before us have reaped the blessing, so shall we.
IV. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF PATIENCE? To patiently wait God’s appointed time is our business. Suppose a man should be impatient under suffering. Will it diminish his suffering? We all know that the irritability of temper which is caused by impatience is one of the difficulties which the physician has to battle with. “When the patient is calm there is a better chance of his recovery. O that ye would endeavour to conquer impatience. It cast Satan out of heaven, when he was impatient at the honour and dignity of the Son of God. But the benefits of patience are too many for me to hope to enumerate them. Suffice it to say, patience saves a man from great discouragement. Expect to wait for glory; expect to wait for the reward which God hath promised; and while you are waiting on the Lord your bread shall be certain, and your water shall be sure: you shall often eat meat, thank God, and take courage. The short days and long nights shall not be all charged with gloom, but full often they shall be tempered with good cheer. When we have patience it keeps us in good heart for service. Great haste makes little speed. He that believeth shall not make haste; and as the promise runs, he shall never be confounded. Above all, patience is to be commended to you because it glorifies God. The man that can wait, and wait calmly, astonishes the worldling, for the worlding wants it now. You remember John Bunyan’s pretty parable of Passion and Patience. Passion would have all his best things first, and one came in and lavished before him out of a bag all that the child could desire. Patience would have his best things last, and Patience sat and waited, so when Passion had used up all his joy, and all he sought for, Patience came in for his portion, and as John Bunyan very well remarked, there is nothing to come after the last, and so the portion of Patience lasted for ever. Let me have my best things last, my Lord, and my worst things first. Be they what they may, they shall be over, and then my best things shall last for ever and for ever. There is one other respect in which our case is like that of the husbandman. As the season advances, his anxieties are prone to increase rather than to abate. In like manner we have a closing scene in prospect which may, and will in all probability, involve a greater trial of faith, and a sterner call for patience, than any or all of the struggles through which we have already passed. Perhaps I can best describe it to you by quoting two passages of Scripture, one specially addressed to workers, the other more particularly to sufferers. The first of these texts you will find in Hebrews 10:35-36. This is sweet counsel for thee, O pilgrim, to Zion’s city bound. When thou wast young and strong, thou didst walk many a weary mile with that staff of promise. It helped thee over the ground. Don’t throw it aside as useless, now that thou art old and infirm. Lean upon it. Rest upon that promise, in thy present weakness, which lightened thy labour in the days of thy vigour. “Cast not away your confidence.” But there is something more. The apostle says, “Ye have need of patience, after ye have done the will of God.” But why, you will say, is patience so indispensable at this juncture of experience? Doubtless you all know that we are never so subject to impatience as when there is nothing we can do. Hence it is that after our fight is fought, after our race is run, after our allotted task is finished, there is so much need of patience, of such patience as waits only on God and watches unto prayer, that we may finish our course with joy and the ministry we have received of the Lord Jesus. And what about the second text? Turn to James 1:4. Seemeth it not as though patience were a virtue par excellence which puts the last polish on Christian chastity? We will hire us back to the cornfields again: I am afraid we were forgetting them. But this time we will net talk so much with the farmer as with the crops. Knowest thou, then, what it is that gives that bright yellow tinge of maturity to those blades which erst were green and growing? What, think you, imparts that golden hue to the wheat? All the while the corn was growing, those hollow stems served as ducts that drew up nourishment from the soil. At length the process of vegetation is fulfilled. The fibres of the plant become rigid; they cease their office; down below there has been a failure of the vital power which is the precursor of death. Henceforth the heavenly powers work quick and marvellous changes; the sun paints his superscription on the ears of grain. They have reached the last stage; having fed on the riches of the soil long enough, they are only influenced flora above. The time of their removal is at hand, when they shall be cut down, carried away in the team, and housed in the garners. So, too, it is with some of you. “The fall of the year is most thickly strewn with the fall of human life.” You have long been succoured with mercies that have come up from mother-earth; you have been exposed to cold dews, chilling frosts, stormy blasts; you have had the trial of the vapoury fog, the icy winter, the fickle spring, and the summer drought; but it is nearly all over now. You are ready to depart. Not yet for a brief space has the reaper come. “Ye have need of patience.” Having suffered thus far, your tottering frame has learnt to bend. Patience, man--patience! A mighty transformation is about to be wrought on you in a short space. Wait on the Lord. Holiness shall now be legibly, more legibly than ever, inscribed on your forefront by the clear shining of the Sun of Righteousness. The heavenly Husbandman has you daily, hourly, in His eye, till He shall say to the angel of His presence, “Put in your sickle.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Be ye also patient
I. SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF CHRISTIAN WAITING.
1. Christian waiting follows conscientious effort. It is not until we have striven to do our duty in Divine strength; it is not until we feel ourselves hemmed in, unable to take another step, that we are to “stand still and see the salvation of God.” The apostolic injunction is: “Having done all, to stand.” It is not until we have laboured that we are to learn to wait. To act otherwise would be to play the part of a farmer who may be waiting for a harvest before he has sown the seed.
2. Christian waiting is an outcome of faith. Faith in the Divine promises, fidelity, ability, and love.
3. Christian waiting is patient. It is a state in which fluttering and murmuring have no place; it is a state in which there is dignified self-restraint, and sweet acquiescence to that will which is recognised to be infallible, sovereign, and good.
4. Christian waiting is expectant. It is ever on the outlook. An attendant, who was asked to wake a visitor in time to meet an appointment, was lingering hard by for the purpose, when some one exclaimed, “What, sitting here and doing nothing!” “No,” was the quick reply, “I am busy waiting.” The man who is truly waiting for the “salvation of the Lord” is “busy waiting”--busy like one waiting for the day-dawn, or like one waiting to take the tide at the flood.
5. Christian waiting is necessary. God does nothing hurriedly. Did the earth, with her hills and vales, lakes, rivers, and seas, dark mines, and gigantic rocks, reach her present state in swift transactions? Did Jesus sweep down from the heavens as the Saviour of man immediately He was promised? Is human life rapid in its physical, mental, and spiritual growth? The development of that which is great cannot be forced. Perfection is not reached in a leap.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT BY WHICH CHRISTIAN WAITING IS HERE ENFORCED. The farmer is encouraged to wait by the thought that every sunrise prepares for, and accelerates the gleeful reaping time. So the believer is incited to wait for Christ by the assurance that His coming “draweth nigh.”
1. His coming in some signal dispensation of Providence may be nigh. If there is no longer a “needs be” for our waiting, we may be sure that He will speedily come to crown our temporal and spiritual efforts with appropriate success; to solve perplexing problems; to deliver from envy, slander, oppression, and to satisfy the desires which He Himself has kindled.
2. His coming at the end of the world may be said to be nigh. “Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly.”
3. His coming at our dissolution may be said to be nigh. It cannot be far distant from any one of us; every clock-tick and pulse-beat hastens it. (E. H. Palmer.)
When men have entered upon a religious experience, or a religious life, they are warned that there are perils in that life or experience--especially the peril of getting tired of it; of losing interest in it; of having their enthusiasm waste away like a summer’s brook, and die like a fugitive cloud. Weariness may take on either of three forms--that of simple fatigue, that of discouragement, or that of disgust. Now,there are no callings in life that are continuous in which we do not experience weariness in the first form--that of fatigue; and rest is the cure for it. We get tired of daily tasks--especially those that consist in bearing heavy burdens and responsibilities; and the night is a blessed relief to those who perform them. But then come the other forms of weariness--namely, discouragement, want of hope, and disgust, aa inexplicable state of mind which oftentimes drives a man to the other extreme, so that he loathes things that once were attractive to him, and not only renounces his purposes, but stands in direct antagonism to the very ends that before he sought violently to serve. I shall speak of some of the occasions on which this weariness and this reaction take place, and of some of the causes which produce them. Weariness often takes place in regular and necessary business life--especially where our avocations are not such as minister pleasure. We should seek as far as possible to reduce that which is necessary in our daily calling to a pleasure. Although there are some things that can scarcely be made pleasurable, yet to a far greater extent than men believe it is possible to subdue to liking things that are not naturally likable. There are odours that are intolerable when we regard them with disgust, but that, nevertheless, when we dwell by them day by day, if we have rational minds, we may come to so regard as to overcome our repugnance to them. And if one man can do it, another can. Tasks that are disagreeable should first be essayed. To all those who have a wearisome life; to all those who have mixed responsibilities “to all those who are obliged to have anxiety; to all those who are compelled to bear these things in bodies enfeebled by disease, or in bodies whose nervous organisation has been very much supplanted, there is this exhortation: “Be not weary in well doing. In due season ye shall reap if ye faint not.” If by complaint, if by repugnance, if by weariness, you could change your affairs for the better, it would be different; but you make them worse by these things; and discretion, as well as the exhortation of revelation, points out the true any “Be bold, be patient, be not weary, continue instant in season and out of season.” Follow these directions, and in due time ye shall have relief. Then a still more critical weariness comes upon persons who, having set before them a vivid notion of their faults and failings, attempt to shape their whole character to a higher pattern and to live their whole life on a higher plane. There is nothing harder than to rise from any level where we have permitted ourselves to spread, out to a higher level. We hug the sphere in which we have invested the most of ourselves; and when we are called to forsake it and to go up to a higher level it is a thing of displacency; and we do it with the utmost fatigue and reluctance. Yet, every man should set his face against the ruling of lower tendencies; and should determine to measure himself by, a higher standard; and when a man, carrying out these purposes in succession, finds himself attacking pride, besieging vanity, doing battle with lusts, and passions, and appetites, he has a campaign on his hands which may very well breed weariness and discouragement, for many and many of the tendencies of our nature are like streams which seem to dry up in summer, but which come Booming again in spring when the rains descend upon the mountains; and where we thought we had achieved victories we find ourselves quite overthrown and swept away. In some respects it is true that men are worse when they begin to be better: The conflict with morbid nature with unwholesome nature is disturbing. Therefore men who attempt to carry out the rule of righteousness with temperance often find themselves very tired of sitting and watching at the door of the mouth, and saying, “Let your moderation be known [be made apparent] to all men.” They forget, they relax vigilance, they faint; and the inordinate appetite which they have striven against for days and weeks at once overtakes them, and they are swept away; and in looking back, when they examine the tendencies of anger, and irritableness, and envy, and jealousy, and avarice in the actual strifes of life, when they think of their relations to others, and of the relative conditions of others and themselves, and when they, from year to year, mark whether they grow in grace or not, it is not strange that weariness and discouragement come over men. Then there is weariness in our social duties and relationships. In days of sickness, in days of labour, and especially in days of poverty, when one can almost say, “Heart and flesh have failed,” is it strange that there is discouragement? And is there no need of the injunction, “Be not weary in well doing”? and of the promise, “In due season ye shall reap, if ye faint not”? When dealing, not within the sacred precincts of the family, but in our relations with those around us--with our neighbours, of every clime, of every disposition, of every kind of education, and of every temperament--an amount of forbearance, of patience, of gentleness, of wisdom, and ofgoodness is required that cannot be measured in words. And when it becomes necessary to co-operate for the public good, or for the good of special classes or conditions of men, human nature is a thing that torments the patience. It is hard to bear with men, and it is hard to bear with them just in the proportion in which they are strong and multiform in their nature. We are disposed to be weary in doing good to others, so slow is the result of anything we undertake in developing itself, so unfruitful is this result, and so material and uninteresting are people. Is it the work of charity? To do good among those who need you most--the poor and the ignorant--will require all the patience, all the gentleness, all the self-denial that you can command. All men, therefore, who go out into the community as reformers should bear in mind the difficulty of managing human nature, and should remember that reformation is effectual only in proportion as it touches the fundamental wants of men. The temperance reformation is slow, is intermittent, and has its reactionary periods, because it strikes at the very strongest passions and appetites which exist in human life. It is an attempt of goodness to overcome badness. It is a promiscuous campaign carried on by all sorts of men. And the marvel is not that it is so slow, but that it is so fast, and that there is so much in it that is permanent. To the end of life and society, however, the work of temperance will be a thing to be done over and over again; and every generation will have to go through precisely the same process. Yet men must not be discouraged nor faint. Then, other men grow weary on account of injudicious labours, on account of undertaking too much, and on account of constantly attempting to work from wrong standards in themselves. Many a man works from the impulse of praise; and as long as he is praised, not to say flattered, he is encouraged, and works cheerfully; but when the praise ceases he begins to grow weary and discouraged, and it seems to him as though life had lost its savour. Others work from the feeling of pride; and so long as that feeling is gratified, and men look up to them, and show them difference, and submit to their control, they are buoyant, and work willingly; but when the gratification of their pride ceases, and men do not yield to them any longer, and they are obliged to humble themselves before others, they grow weary. The trouble comes from the fact that they are attempting to work from the standpoint of prominence and dominance, and wish to be masters. Other men work because they have a sense of duty, and a sense of duty ought to underlie every action of their life; nevertheless, if there is nothing but a sense of duty, it is a hard master that grudges reward; for the sense of duty increases with the performance of duty. The ideal of what we should be and should do grows with actual attainment, so that a man will live for ever in the seventh chapter of Romans, if his inspiration in life is for ever an inspiration of conscience or of duty. In view of these considerations, it is not strange that so many are weary in well-doing, and we see how manifestly it is right that we should exhort men, saying, “Be not weary in well-doing, for in due season ye shall reap if ye faint not.” Be seed-sowers. Be husbandmen in the harvest-field. Sow and reap day by day. Sow at morning and at evening. Withhold not your hand anywhere. You know not which shall prosper, this or that, or whether both alike shall prosper; and be not weary of the work that you leave behind you; take it up again wherever you go; and in the spirit of the Master, carry blessedness, cheerfulness, hopefulness, happiness in your rounds, whether of rest, of pleasure, or of duty. (H. W. Beecher.)
The duty of expectation
In the order of the phenomena which we call natural, everybody knows that time must be taken into account, and that the impatience of men has no effect whatever upon the regular progress of things. The harvest can be expected only after a regular number of months, and when fruit-trees or plants such as the vine are to be brought to maturity, years of patient waiting are required. It is front the habit of reckoning with nature that the peasant derives his proverbial patience and his unwearied tenacity. The artisan of our cities handles matter at his will, and his task is sooner completed; nevertheless, he also knows that nothing solid or good can be produced at a moment’s notice. Thus it is as regards the culture of the intellect; it has its successive stages, which can neither be suppressed nor inter-vetted; the greatest of mathematicians must proceed step by step from the elements of arithmetic to integral calculus. Nothing can be absolutely improvised in this world, and, as the poet said, “Time soon destroys what has been done without its aid.” We all accept this law: but when the Divine works are in question, it seems to us to be out of place. On this point our opinion partly rests upon the true idea that God is above time. Now we may draw a false inference from this principle which, however, is both true and necessary: we may imagine that whatever is Divine must needs be instantaneous. It is certain, however, that Jesus Christ never encouraged this tendency; He declared that prodigies in themselves might be an effect of the evil spirit, and it is upon the moral character of His natural or supernatural works that He always insists upon most strongly. Is it not this very prejudice which leads so many fervent souls to acknowledge the action of the Holy Ghost only in those manifestations which are sudden and striking? Two equally fatal consequences follow from this conception: in the first place, disdain for the ordinary means of grace, for the regular ministry, for the institutions of the past, for the measures which assure and prepare the future. God, it is asserted, hath need of none of these. The other consequence is the impatient zeal which would hurry on the progress of souls, which exaggerates the results already obtained, sees conversions in factitious emotions, creates an over excitement which it takes for an evident effusion of the Holy Spirit, and passes the most uncharitable judgments upon those who have kept outside of this sacred contagion. Now the truth is this: It has pleased God, who Himself is above time, to act in time and by means of time. To convince yourselves of this, behold God at work, as revealed to us in Scripture; His actions will enable us to understand His purposes. God creates the world. It seems as though an instantaneous creation should have responded to an almighty will. But the Bible gives us a totally different account of our origin. In it time appears to us as the very condition of the existence of things. Everything is subject to the twofold law of succession and progress. What I say of creation may also be affirmed as regards the work of grace. If I seek the reason of the existence of all things, Scripture replies by this sublime expression: the reign of God.
Everything tends towards this end, everything is subservient to it, and the entire universe knows no other. Nevertheless, despite this decisive reason which appears to us so completely self-evident, God’s triumph is not immediate; there is a history of the reign of God. A history, that is to say, a beginning, then successive actions which prepare the final consummation; a history, that is to say, the secular, difficult, laborious development of a germ deposited in the depths of humanity. That is the substance of the teaching of Scripture; if you misapprehend it, the Word of God will be for you an eternally sealed book. God takes time into account when the destinies of His kingdom are in question. The history of Christianity is the visible realisation of this Divine plan. We must acknowledge, doubtless, that the sins, the indifference the apathy, the dissensions of Christians have manifestly contributed to this delay; but, even had the influence of these causes been null and void, the conversion of the world had not been the work of a day: the rains of the early and latter seasons must have fallen ere that magnificent harvest could be gathered in. What we say of the conquest of nations, we must also affirm of the salvation of individual souls. God might subdue them in a day; sudden and often striking conversions occur at all times to remind us of the sovereignty of grace; but these are exceptions, and in these very exceptions, a discerning eye easily detects a hidden and latent preparation. In the parable of the prodigal son, the gospel points to the successive phases of the sinner’s estrangement, of the awakening of false independence, of selfishness, pride, rebellion, of the intoxicating delights of passion, of the final shame and degradation, and only in this supreme hour does the distinct remembrance of the Father’s house spring up in that broken heart. For the salvation of a soul, as well as for the salvation of the world, we must learn to wait. Oh! I am not ignorant of the surprise, murmurs, and criticisms which these delays of the Divine action rouse in our hearts. Before us continually stands out that unsolvable contradiction between the notion of the Omnipotence of the good Being and the duration of evil which unceasingly braves His justice and goodness. God is patient, He tolerates the follies of human liberty until the day which He has Himself fixed upon. What He does, that must we also do. Ay, more than this; we are compelled to do this by our very position, for what is a Christian but a sinner, whom God bears with, towards whom He acts with an often extraordinary patience? I have reminded you of the duty of expectation. The expectation of faith is not inaction of the soul: it is its very opposite. We must act as though everything depended upon us, we must wait as if everything depended upon God--act, that is, accomplish the Father’s will, day by day, faithful to the duty of the present hour, without impatience, without feverish ardour, without personal ambition; wait in the immovable assurance that in all things the final victory shall be on the Lord’s side. (E. Bersier, D. D.)
Quieting thoughts about life
I. THERE IS A PERIOD HASTENING ON THAT WILL TERMINATE FOR EVER THE TRIALS OF THE GOOD. This period is not far off. It really takes place with the individual man at death. It emphatically “draweth nigh,” and emphatically may it be said to us all, “The Judge standeth at the door.” It is not something that is far off in the distant ages; it is all but transpiring. We shall soon have struck the last blow in life’s battle, and won the crown; heaved over the last billows in life’s ocean, and reached the desired haven.
II. THE TRIALS OF THE GOOD ARE CONGRUOUS WITH THE PRESENT STATE OF OUR HISTORY. It is a fitful spring with us--a moral April: the struggle of sunshine and shower--the genial glow and the nipping frost. It is a season of fluctuation, not settledness: outlay, not income: labour, not wages: seeds, not results. It is the season for burying the grain, not for plucking the golden ear. It is wise and well for the husbandman to labour patiently in the spring, for he has the assurance from testimony and experience that the glorious summer will reward him for his toil.
III. A MORAL ENDURANCE OF TRIALS IS ESSENTIAL TO AMIABILITY OF CHARACTER. The man who has not that “patience” which results from a loving confidence in the character and a loving acquiescence in the will of the Supreme Ruler, will feel an annoyance in every trial. He will pass through the trials of life, as we have sometimes seen a little cur passing through a hailstorm, barking at every step. But the man who cultivates this magnanimous quality of soul will be, in trial, like the imperial bird in the storm, when beaten down from its heavenly flight, it still keeps its wings expanded, looks calmly up, and with the first gleams of sunshine soars away into the radiant and the high again.
IV. THE GREATEST TRIALS HAVE BEEN ENDURED BY THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS MEN IN HISTORY. “The prophets” were men of genius and of God; great in talent and in virtue, the loyal servants and moral organs of Heaven; the most majestic trees in the forest, the brightest stairs in the firmament of their race. Yet they suffered (Matthew 23:37; Acts 7:32). The morally great have always been sufferers.
V. TRIALS HAVE EVER BEEN THE CONDITION OF TRULY HEROIC AND HONOURED LIVES “We count them happy which endure”--not only because affliction tendeth to spiritual good (2 Corinthians 4:17-18), but because they are enabled by their sufferings, when rightly endured, to display the highest attributes of greatness. In the history of true men, when the sun of prosperity goes down, the brightest orbs of virtue come out to light up the moral firmament of the world.
V. ALL TRIALS BEING UNDER THE DIRECTION OF AN EVER-MERCIFUL GOD, WILL, IF RIGHTLY ENDURED, YIELD A GLORIOUS RETURN. (D. Thomas.)
Waiting upon God
The true Christian idea of waiting upon God patiently implies self-restraint, trust in God, and the exertion of superior elements of manhood. Patient waiting upon God where it exists is not only founded in intelligence, and in that faith which is the handmaid of intelligence, but it is a state of submission and sweet relinquishment of one’s own urgent and importunate feelings. It is the yielding up of everything into the hands of God, with confidence that the Judge of all cannot but do justly, and that in His own time and way He will fulfil the desires of our hearts, if they be right; or, if they be wrong, He will meet our wants with things ether than those which we seek. Consider now the text: “Be patient, therefore,” etc. Here is the measure of the waiting. It is to continue clean through till the Lord appears; till the enigma is solved; till the mystery is cleared. “Behold the husbandman waiteth,” &c. There could be no more admirable analogue than this of husbandry; for there is in it the most obvious union of persistent natural laws with human activity, which bears the same relation to natural laws that the rider does to the horse. It is the horse that performs; it is the rider that steers and guides him. Natural laws, of themselves, are brute forces, wandering wide, and doing little. It is not until great natural laws, if I may say so, are inspired by human volition and human intelligence, that they become productive of good--that they know how to converge and co-operate so as to multiply blessings upon the earth. Without natural laws man is utterly helpless. Without men natural laws are largely useless. Man, knowing how to use those great physical, permanent laws, directs them to certain purposes. This combination it is that makes fruitfulness in our fields. Human strength makes natural laws productive. What are cities but the insignia of thought applied to brute and dead material? What are gardens, vineyards, orchards, grain-fields, railroads, canals, tunnels, bridges, highways, but the union of Divine natural law and human intelligence? Without the one and the other they were impossible. Human society itself is a vast museum and exhibition-hall, as it were, showing what man’s nature has been able to do when it has worked upon the Divine law. See what husbandry does every year. We prepare the soil. We do not make it. It is remedy at our hand. For generations God’s mills have been grinding; the glacier and the rock have come together; the subtle water, made solid by cold, and moving per force, has ground and ground; and behold, the soil that has in it the results of the workings of cycles of centuries. Man finds it ready waiting for him. It is waiting for man as much as man is waiting for it. It is only when by his skill the plough opens the furrow, and he sows intelligently, studying the seasons, the markets, and the pressing necessities of men about him; it is only when, waiting patiently through months if it be fields of grain, or if it be orchards and vineyards through years, that he begins to find remuneration. Farmers wait, and wait patiently, and wait confidently; and their waiting is from no laggard’s indolence. It is from a consciousness that they have done that which, co-operating with natural law, will produce the desired results. God’s stamp is upon natural law, and it is warranted to cut, and not to fail. The farmer waits in intelligence; the sluggard waits in laziness. The farmer thrives; the sluggard degenerates. The farmer has abundance; the sluggard suffers cold in winter, and want the year round. Men who refuse to do anything in God’s vineyard oftentimes pretend to honour God’s sovereignty by waiting upon God; but who would think that he was honouring nature’s sovereignty by waiting on it thus? There be those who say it is presumptuous for man to put forth his hand and touch God’s work. They are afraid of interfering with the sphere of Divine authority and Divine sovereignty. It is their own spiritual indolence that leads them to wait, for no one of them that owns a ship sails that ship as he does his soul. No one of them that has a farm manages that farm in husbandry as he does his soul in spiritual things. He must know how to work who is to know how to wait. He must experience fatigue who is to appreciate the blessing of rest. He must have enterprise who is to understand the great charm of patient waiting upon God. Look, then, at the sphere in which this virtue of waiting is to operate. Bearing in mind the nature of that waiting which brings a blessing, we shall see that there is a sphere for it in our lives fully as great as there was in the eyes of those of old, though we are differently placed from what they were. We shall see, also, that one of the most common traits of a true piety is that of patient waiting. As in all the emergencies of secular life we are called to wait patiently, so we are in all the emergencies of religious life. (H. W.Beecher.)
Christian patience supposeth a sense of evil, and then, in the formality of it, it is a submission of the whole soul to the will of God: wherein observe--
1. The nature; it is a submission of the whole soul. The judgment subscribeth, “Good is the Word of the Lord,” &c. (Isaiah 39:8). Though it were to him a terrible word, yet the submission of a sanctified judgment can call it good. Then the will accepteth, “If they shall accept the punishment” (Leviticus 26:41); that is, take it kindly from God that it is no worse. Then the affections are restrained, and anger and sorrow brought under the commands of the word. Then the tongue is bridled, lest discontent splash over; Aaron held his peace (Leviticus 10:3).
2. Consider the grounds and proper considerations upon which all this is carried on; usually there is such a progress as this in the spiritual discourse.
(1) The soul seeth God in it, “I was dumb and opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it” (Psalms 39:9).
(2) It seeth God acting with sovereignty, “None can say unto Him, What debt Thou?” (Job 9:12). And elsewhere, “He giveth no account of His matters.”
(3) Lest this should make the heart storm, it seeth sovereignty mitigated in the dispensation of it with several attributes. With justice. With mercy, “Thou hast punished us less than we deserved” (Ezra 9:13). They were afflicted, they might have been destroyed; they were in Babylon, they might have been in hell. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might keep Thy statutes.” God’s faithfulness would not suffer them to want such a sweet help. With wisdom, “God is a God of judgment “(Isaiah 30:18); it is meant in His dispensations. Let God alone; He is too just to do us wrong, and too kind and wise to do us harm. (T. Manton.)
Christian patience advocated
Julius Pflugius, complaining to the Emperor, by whom he had been employed, of great wrong done him by the Duke of Saxony, received this answer--“Have a little patience; thy cause is my cause.” So says God to His abused. (J. Trapp.)
Patience a strength
It would be far easier, I apprehend, for nine men out of ten to join a storming party than to lie on a rack or to hang on a cross without repining. Yes, patience is a strength; and patience is not merely a strength, it is wisdom in exercising it. We, the creatures of a day, make one of the nearest approaches possible for us to the life of God who, because He lives for ever, can afford to wait. (Canon Liddon.)
Stablish your hearts
An established heart
1. Our hearts are settled in our afflictions by the sweet promises we have from God of our deliverance. David thereof saith, “Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth them out of all.” In another place to like purpose, “The salvation of the righteous is of the Lord, He st)all be their strength in time of trouble.” Therefore Almighty God saith to His people, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.”
2. As by the promises of our deliverance our hearts are settled through patience in our oppression; so also ought they to be settled in the experience we have of the power of God in the deliverance of the righteous. If we look to others, or ourselves, we shall find experience of this truth. Hath not God delivered Moses and Israel, His people, from the army of Pharaoh? What, did not God deliver David from sundry attempts of Saul?
3. Neither thus only are our hearts settled in our miseries, but also when we cast our eyes upon the crown of glory, which we shall receive, and the glorious hope whereof we shall be partakers, if we endure with patience, we should settle and quiet our minds in our miseries. Thus Paul, exhorting the Romans to settle their hearts, and in their afflictions which by the ensample of Christ they should suffer, comforting them, telleth them that the sufferings of their mortal life were not to be compared to the glory which should be revealed to the sons of God.
4. Our hearts shall the better be settled if we would consider that nothing cometh unto us but by the will of God.
5. Our hearts shall be settled in afflictions if we know the manifold uses and good ends of the afflictions which God sendeth to the saints.
6. Our hearts in affliction shall be settled if we did consider that our time of sufferings is limited, and is but short, but the time of rest, of peace, of joy, eternal.
7. If we consider that the saints in all times have suffered adversity, that Jesus Christ Himself, the Lord of Glory, hath by many tribulations entered into His glory, that we are no otherwise fellow-heirs with Him, but upon this condition that we suffer with Him.
8. Finally, our hearts in affliction are settled when we recount often the fearful judgments of God upon them which have afflicted and cruelly persecuted His Church and saints in all times. (R. Turnbull.)
The coming of the Lord draweth nigh
The approaching of Christ in the revolution of time
I. EVERY YEAR BRINGS HIM NEARER TO EVERY MAN TO TERMINATE HIS CONNECTION WITH THIS EARTH.
1. What a solemnity does this give to time.
2. What significance to death.
II. EVERY YEAR BRINGS HIM NEARER TO ESTABLISH HIS SPIRITUAL EMPIRE IN THE WORLD. Indications of His approach are multiplying and brightening as years come and go. Every true thought, every moral conversion, every true revolution in the minds of individuals and nations, announce the fact that He is coming whose right it is to reign.
III. EVERY YEAR BRINGS HIM NEARER TO WIND UP ALL HUMAN AFFAIRS ON THIS EARTH. On this wonderful day He will--
1. Stop the increase of the race.
2. Terminate the infidelities of the race.
3. Open the graves of the race.
4. Settle the destinies of the race. (D. Thomas.)
The impending hour
The feelings with which we await the coming of any person or tiling depend very much upon the nature of the person or thing advancing, or upon the fittedness to meet him or it. It is evening in a very pleasant household. There is a key heard at the front door. The children come down the stairs with a bound, clapping their hands, and shouting, “Father’s coming!” But disaster has entered that home. The writs have been issued. The front door bell rings, an official is about to enter, and the whisper all through the rooms of that house is, “The sheriff’s coming!” March weather gets through scolding, and one day the windows toward the south are opened, and old age feels the flush of new life in its veins; and invalidism looks up and smiles, and all through the land the word is, “Spring is coming!” December hangs icicles on the eaves of the poor man’s house. No wood gathered. No coal. The cracked window-pane invites the sleet to come in. The older sister, with numb fingers, attempts to tie the shoe latchet of the little brother, and stops to blow warmth into her blue hands, and the father shiveringly looks down and says, “Oh, my God, winter is coming!” Well, it is just so in regard to the announcement of my text. To one it sounds like a father’s, to another like an executioner’s, footstep. To one it is the breath of a June morning; to the other it is the blast of a December hurricane. “The coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” I do not see how God can afford to stay away any longer. It seems to me that this world has been mauled of sin about long enough. The Church has made such slow headway against the Paganism, and the Mohammedanism, and the fraud, and the libertinism, and the drunkenness, and the rapine, and the murder of the world, that there are ten thousand hands now stretched up beckoning for God to come, and to come now. I also see a sign of the Divine advance in the opportunity for repentance which is being given to the nations. God, and angels, and men calling. Messages of salvation in the air. Telegraphs flashing the gospel news. Steamships carrying Christian ambassadors to and fro. Yes, we are on the eve of a universal moral earthquake. “The coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” But there is a deeper stop in the organ of my text that needs to be pulled out, and that organ stop is the judgment trumpet. My text distinctly points toward that august arrival. Now, there is one secret that God has never told even to an archangel. The time when. It may come this autumn. It may come next spring. It may be farther off. I cannot tell. But the fact that such a day will come cannot be disputed. The Bible intimates, yea, it positively says, that in that last day God will come in by a flash of lightning. When the roll-call of that day is read your name and my name will be read in it, and we will answer, “Here!” These very feet will feel the earth’s tremor, these eyes will see the scrolled sky, these hands will be lifted in acclamation or in horror, when the Lord shall be revealed from heaven, with mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance upon those who know not God, and who obey not the gospel of His Son. It will be our trial. It will be our judge. It will be our welcome or it will be our doom. “The coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” But my subject takes a closer grapple, and it closes in and closes in until it announces to you and to me that Christ is coming very soon to put an end to our earthly residence. The most skilful theologians may make a mistake of hundreds of years in regard to the chronology of the judgment; but it is impossible for us to make a very wide mistake in regard to the time in which Christ will come to put an end to our earthly existence. Oh, if you knew how near you are to the moment of exit from this world, do you know what you would do? You would drop your head and pray just now. If you knew how certainly the door of God’s mercy is gradually shutting against your unpardoned soul, you would cry out, “Stop! till I enter.” My subject closes in once more, and closes in until I have to tell you that God, who in the text is represented as “drawing nigh,” has actually arrived. No longer “drawing nigh.” He is here. Get away from Him, you cannot. Trust in Him, you ought. Be saved by Him, you may. This God who has been arriving, and who is now come; this God who has been “drawing nigh,” has come for one thing, and that is to save every one of you. He has come a long pilgrimage, treading over nails, and spikes, and thorns, until the sharp points have struck up through the hollow of the foot to the instep. He has come to carry your burdens, and to slay your sins, and to sympathise with your sorrows. He is here to break up your obduracy, and make you feel the palpitations of His warm, loving heart. Oh, the love of God, the love of God! (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The great court of appeal
There will be a great court of appeal from all man’s injustice. (Dean Plumptre.)
Importance of the end
“We were,” writes a Christian traveller, “on a little steamer on the Volga … A young Russian officer was on board with his wife. They bad plenty of money; they seemed perfectly well; the scenery around was beautiful and the weather was fine; but, for all that, the officer looked sad and was silent. Every day, as we went on and on, he was more and more unhappy, and I soon found out the reason. He was going from home and friends, far off into Siberia. Each mile of progress brought him nearer to the cold, bleak wilderness where he was to spend many long years of banishment.” And it is just so in the journey of life. If a man feels that each day he grows older only brings him nearer to a dark, unknown future, his heart cannot be really happy, even if all around seems gay. “A little while afterwards I had to return to Moscow with another Russian officer. We travelled in a miserable plight, hurried over rough roads in a cart with only straw to sit on, and a few apples to eat. The scenery was dull, the weather was bitterly cold, but that officer was exulting in buoyancy and delight. He was hastening to the emperor to bear the news of a great victory, and to be decorated with an honourable reward.” Even so, again, it is on life’s journey. The man who feels sure he is getting nearer the heavenly King each day he lives, and that he will be welcomed as a “faithful servant” of that Master who has won a victory over the enemies of God and man--this man will be happy in his heart, even in days of trial and toil, ‘mid darkness, want, and sorrow. (Sunday at Home.)
Grudge not one against another
Discontent and envy
EXPLAIN THE EXHORTATION.
1. The exhortation implies that we are apt to be secretly discontented with our condition and circumstances in the present life; that we are prone to become fretful when things do not correspond with our wishes.
2. It is implied that we are prone to envy, or to look upon the prosperity of others, either real or imaginary, with a spirit of secret discontent.
3. We are in danger of cherishing a spirit of resentment towards those who have injured us, whether intentionally or not, and so of having a “grudge one against another.”
II. ENFORCE THE EXHORTATION.
1. The disposition here forbidden is intrinsically evil, and is one of the corruptions of the human heart.
2. It is expressly contrary to Divine command, which requires us to esteem others better than ourselves, to rejoice in their prosperity, to participate of their sorrows, and to make their interest our own.
3. An envious and rancorous disposition is marked with folly, as well as stainedwith guilt. It argues an unacquaintedness with ourselves, who in every condition of life deserve to be in worse circumstances than we are; nor does such a disposition contribute in the least to our comfort and happiness. It cures not the wound, but makes it more painful and dangerous; does not lighten the burden, but renders it still more intolerable.
4. It is both injurious to ourselves and others, as well as sinful and unwise. Envy makes us our own tormentors; it robs us of that peace and satisfaction which we might otherwise enjoy. “Wrath killeth the foolish man, and envy slayeth the silly one.” It embitters his enjoyments and gives a keener edge to his afflictions. It is a sin which often leads to cruelty and injustice, and is seldom found to exist alone.
5. It is a sin which, if not repented of, will subject us to final condemnation. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Murmuring is not here generally taken for every grudging, either against God or man, as whereof in other places of Scripture is spoken, but particularly for that murmuring which is against men, therefore saith he, “Grudge not one against another.” This grudging and murmuring is either when we grieve that wicked rich men should so highly be exalted, and the poor, yet righteous, should by poverty be pressed down in the world; or else it is that murmuring whereby we take it in evil part that ourselves should be so tossed and turmoiled, and others should be dealt with more gently; thinking that we bear a greater burden and heavier cross from God than we have deserved, and that other men (as yet not touched) have deserved more. Or, finally, it is that grudging which is in our afflictions, whereby we are discontented that we should sigh so long under our afflictions, and the wicked which afflict us should so long escape unpunished, and so in our hearts, through impatience, complain hereof to God. This ought not to be in the saints of God, who ought to be renowned for their unspeakable patience; whose bounden duty it is to pray even for their enemies, to wish well to them which have done them injury, and to commit their cause to Him that judgeth righteously, which is God. And if this moderation and equity of our minds is to be showed towards our enemies, how much less ought we, then, to grudge against another Christian brother? If every one give some offence unto another, shall we complain to God in the bitterness of our hearts, shall we desire revenge from God against them? and shall we not all then perish? for no man liveth without some offence-giving. This grudging proceedeth from impatience, argueth discontentment of the mind, causeth mutual complaining unto God, and desireth revenge against such as have done us injury; which thing is far from the excellency or dignity of a Christian, whose patience should be such, as where others through impatience accuse one another, either to God or men, yet they should not so much as murmur in their minds, grudge to themselves, fret or grieve in their inward parts, much less complain indeed through discontentment and impatience, howbeit they had sustained injury. Finally, it bringeth condemnation upon us, who have lost patience, according to the denouncing of the Scripture: “Woe be unto them that have lost patience.” The reason why we should not murmur one against another is drawn from the presence of the Lord, who is at hand, as a just judge, to avenge us of our enemies, and to crown us for our patience or punish our murmuring. The Lord our God beholdeth our injuries with open eye, and seeth our oppressions by the wicked; He is pressed and at hand to rescue and deliver u s, as it shall seem best to His Divine Majesty; He marketh all our behaviour under the cross; let us not, therefore, be impatient, neither murmur, but therein show all Christian moderation as becometh saints. (R. Turnbull.)
The sin of grumbling
Do Christian people quite sufficiently consider the sin of grumbling, the sin of being discontented with the allotment of Providence, as to the time and place of their birth; as to the family in which they were born; as to their environment, as well as their heredity? What a strange sight a grumbling Christian is! He is a man who believes that God hath forgiven his sins, that Christ hath borne them all away, that his Lord has gone to prepare a place for him, that in a short time he will be where neither pain nor persecution can reach him, where the load of life will be laid down, where the wicked shall cease from troubling, and the weary shall be for ever at rest. And yet he allows small and transient things to keep him awake in the night, to worry him and make him peevish and fretful and cross through the day. He makes his own burdens more distressing by fretting under them, and thus increases the burdens which his friends have to bear. How many Christians fail to put their grumblings into the category of their sins. But James’s admonition, that we should not grumble lest we be condemned, ought to arouse us to the duty of being patient, and to the fact that all really true Christian faith increases a man’s manliness. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)
The carping spirit
A carping spirit rarely goes with a working spirit. It is easier to find fault with what some one else does than it is to do something oneself; hence a man who enjoys doing the easier thing is disinclined to do the harder one. As a rule men are divided into two classes, of those who growl and those who work; and each class is alike devoted to its own mission. But, when it comes to the relative worth in the community of the two classes, everybody can see the difference.
“Murmur not” (R.V.). The literal meaning of the Greek is “Groan not”; i.e. “Grumble not.” (A. Plummer, D. D.)
The Judge standeth before the door
The Judge before the door
This explains why conscience is always gloomy after sin; it is because He who is the eternal righteousness casts His shadow across the threshold of the soul. In some Eastern houses there are no windows, the doorway serving for lighting as well as for passage. A party of us lunching by invitation in a Druze house in the Lebanons had to drive away the curious villagers who looked in at us through the door, the only opening, because they made it so dark that we could not see the food. God fills the whole light-way of the soul when He looks in at us, and unless He shines on us with the light of His countenance, His stern righteousness makes the soul all dark within. (J. M. Ludlow, D. D.)
The magistrate present
If the magistrate be present we may not offend another to defend ourselves. (J. Trapp.)
An example of suffering affliction--
Man is so formed by nature that examples, whether good or bad, have a great influence upon him.
The bad, indeed, have more power to corrupt than the good to reform the world: nevertheless, upon all who are well disposed, good examples are not without a considerable effect. Good examples in general tend to establish us in the belief of the infinite advantages of true religion, which appears with most convincing evidence when, in the lives and actions of those who profess it, we behold a lovely counterpart of its Divine doctrines and admirable precepts. The cause is known by its effects, the fountain by its streams. Good examples are further advantageous as they are corrective: they strongly operate upon the principles of an ingenuous shame, and therefore contribute to reform the vicious and to improve the virtuous. We may also observe that such good and amiable models are powerfully attractive. Their lustre is truly bright, their beauty truly alluring: they seize on our esteem, steal our affections, and so insinuate themselves into the soul as by insensible degrees to transform it into their own likeness. When the sincere follower of Christ contemplates the illustrious patterns held up to him in Scripture, he will naturally be led to reflect that he is not single in the difficulties of the human race. Through the Divine blessing and assistance he will determine to tread the same path, and, like them, despise the allurements and terrors of the world. It is highly useful to attend not only to the patterns proposed in Scripture, but also to all those good examples which through any other means fall within the sphere of our knowledge; more particularly of such persons as have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and have with heroic fortitude borne witness to the truth in the face of sufferings and death. If we have borne any particular relation to persons eminent for piety and virtue, their examples ought to be peculiarly beneficial to us. It may be presumed that, by our greater affection for such endeared friends, we shall be better prepared to receive the influence of their good examples. If we have had the benefit of their instructions and reproofs, of their admonitions, prayers and counsels, we shall be the more inexcusable if we are not disposed to resemble them. Eminent examples of piety and virtue, whether near or more remote, are like lights set up in the world for the direction of mankind in general, and for the comfort of the good: some of these, like the luminaries of heaven, extend their influence to all nations and times. In order to induce us to imitate those excellent examples which are held forth to us in Scripture, or which by any other means come within the circle of our knowledge, let us attend to the following encouraging considerations.
1. We serve the same God and Father. He is as deserving of the zeal and fidelity of His servants now as ever, has the same blessings treasured up in Himself, the same power in heaven, and the same care of His people here on earth. If we cultivate repentance and faith, piety and virtue, we have the same hopes of acquiring His favour, for He is “no respecter of persons.”
2. Another encouraging circumstance is that we profess the same doctrine in general even with those who lived before the time of Christ.
3. Again, we are blessed with the same assistance, we are favoured with the same outward means and institutions, we are blessed with the public worship of God, the benefit of prayer, of the preaching His Word, and of the administration of the sacraments; we have moral and religious treatises in abundance, doctrinal, practical and devotional. Nor is there any want of internal assistance and consolation that either our own weakness, the irregularity of our passions, or the temptations with which we are encompassed, may render necessary to encourage us in our Christian course.
4. To conclude all, let it be considered that we have the promise and expectation of the same reward with them. Attentively, therefore, let us eye all the good examples with which we are acquainted that we may catch a portion of that heavenly ardour which animated them. (B. C. Sowden.)
What is affliction?
Affliction is the dark soil in which is deposited the heavenly seed, that germinates, and brings forth fruit to the glory of God. Affliction is a furnace, in whose ardent flame the Refiner of souls is consuming our human imperfections. Affliction is a rod, under whose kindly chastisement the Father of Spirits is educating us for immortality. Affliction is a baptism, from whose cleansing wave the saints of the Most High come forth fit for the marriage-supper of the Lamb. Affliction is a cup, whose bitter draught is administered by the good Physician to purify our spiritual natures. Affliction is a dark cloud, on which the God of covenant has painted the rainbow of hope, and which He has irradiated with the halo of celestial glory. Would you, then, bring forth much fruit? would you be purified of remaining imperfections? would you be trained for immortality? would you be fitted for the marriage-supper? would you be sanctified in your spiritual nature? would you be encircled in the bow of promise or adorned with the halo of glory? You must needs suffer affliction; for “it is through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom.”
The uses of affliction
1. God visits with sickness to cause careless sinners to bethink themselves concerning their souls’ estate, who, perhaps, never had a serious thought about it before.
2. God visits us with sickness in order to instruct and teach us things we know not (Psalms 90:12). The path of the cross is the path of light.
3. God sends such trials and distresses in order to mortify and kill sin in us.
4. God sends sickness to awaken in us the spirit of prayer and supplication, and make us more earnest and importunate in our addresses to the throne of grace.
5. Another end is to loosen our hearts from the things of the world, and cause us to look and long for heaven.
6. God designs to make the world bitter, and Christ sweet to us.
7. God visits with sickness and distress in order both to prove and improve His people’s graces (Deuteronomy 8:2; Revelation 2:10). Grace is hereby both tried and strengthened.
8. God’s aim is to awaken us to redeem time, to prepare for flitting, and clear up our evidence for heaven. (The Study.)
And of patience
Patience aids every virtue
Patience to the soul is as bread to the body, the staff of either the natural or spiritual life; we eat bread with all our meats, both for health and relish; bread with flesh, bread with fish, bread with broths and fruits. Such is patience to every virtue; we must hope with patience, and pray in patience, and love with patience, and whatsoever good thing we do, let it be done in patience.
Patience reduces pain
As the lid is made to open and shut, to save the eye; so patience is set to keep the soul, and save the heart whole to cheer the body again. Therefore, if you mark when you can go by an offence and take a little wrong, and suffer trouble quietly, you have a kind of peace and joy in your heart, as if you had gotten a victory; and the more your patience is, still the less your pain is. For as a light burden, borne at the arm’s end, weigheth heavier by much than a burden of treble weight if it be borne upon the shoulders, which are made to bear; so if a man set impatience to bear a cross, which is not fit to bear, it will grumble and murmur, and start and shrink, and let the burden fall upon his head; like a broken staff which promiseth to help him over the water, and leaveth him in the ditch. But if you put it to patience, and set her to bear it which is appointed to bear, she is like the hearty spies that came from Canaan, and said, “It is nothing to overcome them”; so patience saith, “It is nothing to bear, it is nothing to fast, it is nothing to watch, it is nothing to labour, it is nothing to be envied, it is nothing to be backbited, it is nothing to be imprisoned; “In all these things we are more than conquerors.” (Henry Smith.)
We count them happy which endure
Most natural words for an apostle to use.
He lived in the days of persecution. He was the head of that Church in which his namesake James was slain, Peter imprisoned, and Stephen stoned. But when persecution ceases, when times of rest and quiet come, have the words still a meaning to us? Yes; they are as true as ever now. He alone who has endured is truly happy. An easy life brings not out the powers of the soul. It only tries the surface; it does not search what is deeper. This kind of life, doubtless, is good for some. God knows what is best for each. He has given to some few opportunities, slight abilities, regular duties. He has taken the stones of stumbling and the rocks of offence out of their way. Quietly and gently, yet surely, as we hope, do they travel forward to a truer and more perfect rest. This, then, is happiness. And yet not happiness in itself of the highest kind. They that endure are the truly happy. For--
1. Consider we are all sinners. Surely we should be thankful for that which makes us know ourselves; which gives us self-knowledge; which forces us to search ourselves, probe our hearts, and test our conduct; which awakes us from sleep; which calls forth dormant powers, and raises us into activity. Trials are as prophets of old; they are clothed in a sad dress, but they warn us. They tell us what is true happiness--not to enjoy, not to be careless, not to laugh; but to work hard, to labour steadily, to endure what has to be endured.
2. This was the life of Christ. Would you prefer to it the life of any prince, noble, prosperous merchant, merry-hearted youth? Doubtless they are happy in their way. But as gold is better than silver, so is the happiness of Christ a far higher happiness than theirs. And why do we count Christ’s life blessed? Because He endured.
3. This is that which does most good, and that which does most good is the happiest. He who attacks sin and ignorance, he who seeks out misery to relieve it, does the most direct good. Now, attack evil, ignorance, misery, we cannot, except with a contest. They are deeply seated. Then comes the struggle. With the struggle comes the endurance, the labour, the toil, the disappointment, the renewed struggle, more endurance.
4. Surely the right thing is work now, rest hereafter. Things show best by contrast. ‘Tis the shadow that shows us what light is. It is ungenerous to wish to win heaven lightly. Should we expect, or even desire, ever to sail over an unruffled sea? Should the sea be as calm as the harbour? Should we be satisfied with the merits of Christ? Is there not something to be filled up? “What is all that that is said about a great struggle, a race, a wrestling, a combat? Do we need no inward strivings, no hidden battle, no earnest prayers, no sorrowing for sin? We count the dead blessed who have endured; not simply as if so much affliction and sorrow and pain were so much expiation and satisfaction; but we count, as Christians, him happy who has endured after the pattern and model of Christ’s endurance. Nothing else can give us confidence or inspire us with a well-grounded hope. He who is dead may have had less or more to endure; still, something, be he who he may, he must have had to endure. This is the question: Has he endured it with a Christian patience? That which we would think of others, let us each think of ourselves. Endurance should form and fashion our character, try our powers, call out our activity, test our disposition, regulate our temper, teach us confidence in God, wean our souls from the world, join us nearer to the Divine life through Christ; at the same time make us more human, enable us to feel for others’ trials; on every side should it strengthen and improve us, so that in all sincerity we may bless God our Father, for that He has not left us without trouble, for that He has not sent us pain, for that He has made us to have not an over-easy life. (James Lonsdale, M. A.)
It seems to me a perfectly fair question to ask, Was there ever any fully-developed soul who did not suffer intensely, and in that suffering develop the forces and talents within it, rising almost to the level of genius? Have you never felt in the presence of some mighty spirit, born with unusual powers, capable of accomplishing mighty things, rising in the sublimity of his forces to the transcendent heights of genius, yet never having been burned to the fibres of his soul by the consuming fire of pain and agony--have you not felt in the presence of such a life that, when the supreme moment of Christlike agony shall have come to him, he will burst the bonds binding him by reason of his limitations, and through the fires of his suffering spring into hitherto unknown powers and capabilities? Shall we dare to say that Lincoln could have been a Lincoln without his sufferings? Dante a Dante without his? Luther, Melancthon, Ridley, Cranmer, St. Augustine? Oh, how the pain of sin entered St. Augustine’s soul; how the biting chisel of violated law cut the fair beauty of holiness, engraved his character! and through his confessions we are enabled to see the process through which the angel of his spirit was let out. Dare we say that St. Augustine would have been what he was without all his sufferings? (S. R. Fuller.)
The goodly discipline
It is the supreme exercise of faith to believe in its goodness; to accept it as a beautiful, a precious, yea, even a blessed part of the heritage of benediction which we enjoy. It is hard to believe in the goodness of toil, and to break forth into praise as the nerves throb, and the flesh quivers under the strain. It is far harder to praise when the fibres of the soul are throbbing with anguish, and the heart reels under a pressure which it can no longer endure. The real question is, What is in the child’s heart, not when it is tormented, but when it is in its right mind, and the hidden nature is free to express itself, to make known its secret thought, and to declare its love. If that be right with God, as Job’s was, the plaints and meanings enter into a compassionate ear, and are so many pleas, like the infant’s cry, for loving glances, tender touches, wooing words, and all the gentle efforts by which the Father strives to draw the moaning child to His bosom, and to hush him to rest in the arms of His love. It is a state of gracious discipline to which we are called in this life; not a home, not a rest, but a school of culture, a wilderness of pilgrimage, in which salvation is not through possession, but through hope. And for this goodly heritage, this scene and school of discipline, I call you this day to praise. For man constituted as he is, or rather as he has made himself by sin, tasks are good, and the sentence of toil is good. It is good to bring him back into that harmony with the Divine law from which he had withdrawn himself; good to remind him that he is living in God’s world, and not in his own, and that he must study and obey humbly the laws of its constitution if he would lift his hand, draw his breath, and eat his bread, The lesson was made hard; the work was to deepen into toil that would strain every fibre, and start every pore, that the lesson might be driven home, and that powers might be drawn forth and cultivated which, when the painful process of their first training was over, would be instruments of power and inlets of joy to the being through all the ages of eternity. Discipline takes up and carries on this ministry of the tasks of life. It carries it up into higher regions--the regions of spiritual experience and power. It is a still stronger and sharper reminder to man that he has placed himself in collision with the whole system of things around him, by the transgression of the Divine commandment; and that submission, believing submission, to the will which is above him, is the one secret of peace and blessedness. It would be very terrible for man, the sinner, in the physical world, if he could command successfully the stones to be made bread--that is, if he could make things obey him instead of God. It would but make for him a fool’s paradise for a moment, which his own selfish passions would soon convert into a hell. It would be still more terrible, were it possible for man, if he could lie, and cheat, and steal, or be arrogant, self-willed, lustful, tyrannous, or unjust, and live peaceably, free from storm and inward and outward wretchedness. If he could play the tyrant in his home, and find it a house of benediction, or in his state, and find it prosperous and strong; if he could play the hypocrite or the satyr in his own soul, and be honoured and loved of all men, live in peace and die in hope, it would be a training for a miserable and lost eternity. The pain of life throws back man’s thought on his sin. He sees, or is meant to see, how his own selfishness, injustice, impurity, are armed with scourges to smite him, and will bury their thongs in his quivering flesh, and stain them with the starting blood, before they leave him to dream, if he can, that the way of the transgressor is peace. But it would be a dark mistake to imagine that the whole meaning of life’s discipline has relation to transgression, and that when it has convinced a man of sin, and set right his relations with the laws of the world around him, its work is done. The end of the Lord in much of our affliction is not so much to convert as to elevate, purify, and conform unto Himself. There is a strange absence of bitterness in this form of suffering; the pain may be terribly sharp, while within there is the perfect peaceful consciousness that the chastisement is the most tender and even yearning manifestation of the Divine love. Those deeply experienced in suffering learn lessons of unselfish thought and activity, of devotion to great ends of human good, of comfort, of healing, of teaching, of ministering, which make them the helpers and saviours of society. And what is true of the greatest, is true in minor measure of minor ministries of blessing. It is those who have learnt much in God’s high-school of discipline who best understand His mind and methods, and are His servants and ministers for the instruction of the world. It is suffering which unveils to us life’s inner mysteries, solves for us its deepest problems, shows us the true treasure-house of the wealth of being, and brings uncertain riches and possessions to their true weight--but a slight one--in the scale of life. The sorrowful find how little gifts and possessions can content them, can lighten their burden or soothe their pangs. They are open to the teaching which bids them “lay up treasures in heaven”; they know that a soul’s wealth lies absolutely in fellowship, sympathy, and love, and the fruit of noble, unselfish work. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
Afflictions are blessings in disguise
A young man, who had long been confined with a diseased limb, and was near dissolution, said to a friend: “What a precious treasure this affliction has been to me! It saved me from the folly and vanity of youth; it made me cleave to God as my only portion, and to eternal glory as my only hope; and I think it has now brought me very near my Father’s house.”
Benefit of afflictions
A minister was recovering from a dangerous illness, when one of his friends addressed him thus: “Sir, though God seems to be bringing you up from the gates of death, yet it will be a long time before you will sufficiently recover your strength and vigour of mind to preach as usual.” The good man answered, “You are mistaken, my friend; for this six weeks’ illness has taught me more divinity then all my past studies and all my ten years’ ministry put together.”
Benefit of adversity
We are told of a merchant who lost his all in a storm, and then went to Athens to study philosophy. He soon discovered that it was better to be wise than to be wealthy, and said, “I should have lost all unless I had lost much.”
The honour of endurance
There lies a ship out in the stream I It is beautiful in all its lines. It has swung out from the pier, and is lying at anchor yonder; and men, as they cross the river on the ferry-boats, stand, and look at it, and admire it; and it deserves admiration. But it has never been out of port: there it stands, green, new, untried; and yet everybody thinks it is beautiful. It is like childhood, which everybody thinks is beautiful, or ought to be. There comes up the bay, and is making towards the navy-yard, another ship. It is an old ship-of-war. It has been in both oceans, and has been round the world many times. It has given and taken thunder-blows under the flag of its country. It is the old Constitution, we will suppose. She anchors at the navy-yard. See how men throng the cars, and go to the navy-yard, to get a sight of her I See how the sailors stand upon the deck, and gaze upon her I Some of them, perchance, have been in her; and to them she is thrice handsomer than any new vessel. This old war-beaten ship, that carries the memory of many memorable campaigns, lies there; and they look at its breached bow, its shattered rigging, its coarse and rude lines, its dingy sides, which seemed long since to have parted company with paint; and every one of them feels, if he is a true patriot, “God bless you! old thing; God bless you!” (H. W. Beecher.)
Secret of silent endurance
There lived in a village near Burnley a girl who was persecuted in her own home because she was a Christian. She struggled on bravely, seeking strength from God, and rejoicing that she was a partaker of Christ’s sufferings. The struggle was too much for her, but He willed it so; and at length her sufferings were ended. When they came to take off the clothes from her poor dead body, they found a piece of paper sewn inside her dress, and on it was written, “He opened not His mouth.” (Baxendale’s Anecdotes.)
Suffering, the common lot
The Mexicans to their new-born offspring, “Child, thou art come into the world to suffer. Endure and hold thy peace.” (Longfellow.)
The patience of Job
The pearl patience
We need to be reminded of what we have heard, for we are far too ready to forget. We are also so slow to meditate upon what we have heard that it is profitable to have our memories refreshed. We have, however, I trust, gone beyond mere hearing, for we have also seen in the story of Job that which it was intended to set vividly before our mind’s eye. I count it no small enrichment of our mind to have heard of the patience of Job, it comforts and strengthens us in our endurance; but it is an infinitely better thing to have seen the end of the Lord, and to have seen the undeviating tenderness and pity which are displayed even in His sorest chastisements. This is indeed a choice vein of silver, and he that hath digged in it is far richer than the more superficial person who has only heard of the patience of Job, and so has only gathered surface-truth. “The patience of Job,” as we hear of it, is like the shell of some rare nut from the Spice Islands, full of fragrance; but “the end of the Lord,” when we come to see it, is as the kernel, which is rich beyond expression with a fulness of aromatic essence. Note well the reason why the text reminds us of what we have heard and seen. When we are called to the exercise of any great virtue, we need to call in all the helps which the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon us. All our wealth of hearing and seeing we shall have need to spend in our heavenly warfare. In the present case the virtue we are called to exercise is that of patience, and therefore to help us to do it we are reminded of the things that we have heard and seen, because it is as difficult as it is necessary, and as hard to come at as it is precious when it is gained. The text is preceded by a triple exhortation to patience. We are most of us deficient in this excellent grace, and because of it we have missed many privileges, and have wasted many opportunities in which we might have honoured God, might have commended religion, and might have been exceedingly profited in our souls. Affliction has been the fire which would have removed our dross, but impatience has robbed the mental metal of the flux of submission which would have secured its proper purification. It is unprofitable, dishonourable, weakening; it has never brought us gain, and never will. I suppose we are three times exhorted to patience because we shall need it much in the future. Between here and heaven we have no guarantee that the road will be easy, or that the sea will be glassy. We have no promise that we shall be kept like flowers in a conservatory from the breath of frost, or that, like fair queens, we shall be veiled from the heat of the sun.
I. IT IS NOT AN UNHEARD OF VIRTUE TO BE PATIENT, “Ye have heard of the patience of Job.”
1. Observe well that the patience of Job was the patience of a marl like ourselves, imperfect and full of infirmity; for, as one has well remarked, we have heard of the impatience of Job as well as of his patience. The traces of imperfection which we see in Job prove all the more powerfully that grace can make grand examples out of common constitutions, and that keen feelings of indignation under injustice need not prevent a man becoming a model of patience.
2. “Ye have heard of the patience of Job,” that is, the patience of a greatly tried man. That is a very trite yet needful remark: Job could not have exhibited patience if he had not endured trial; and he could not have displayed a patience whose fame rings down the ages, till we have heard of it, if he had not known extraordinary affliction.
(1) Reflect, then, that it was the patience of a man who was tried in his estate. All his wealth was taken!
(2) Job was caused to suffer sharp relative troubles. All his children were snatched away without a warning, dying at a festival, where, without being culpably wrong, men are usually unguarded. He sits among the ashes a childless man. “Ye have heard of the patience of Job.” Oh, to have patience under bereavements, patience even when the insatiate archer multiplies his arrows!
(3) “Ye have heard of the patience of Job” under personal affliction. It is well said by one who knew mankind cruelly well, that “we bear the afflictions of other people very easily”; but when it touches our bone and our flesh trial assumes an earnest form, and we have need of unusual patience. Such bitter pain Job must have suffered.
(4) In addition to all this, Job bore what is perhaps the worst form of trial--namely, mental distress. The conduct of his wife must have muchgrieved him when she tempted him to “Curse God, and die.” And then those “miserable comforters,” how they crowned the edifice of his misery! They rubbed salt into his wounds, they cast dust into his eyes, their tender mercies were cruel, though well-intentioned. Woe to the man who in his midnight hour is hooted at by such owls; yet the hero of patience sinned not: “Ye have heard of the patience of Job.” Job’s was in all respects a most real trouble, he was no mere dyspeptic, no hysterical inventor of imaginary evil; his were no fancied losses nor minor calamities.
3. The patience of Job was the patience of a man who endured up to the very end. No break-down occurred; at every stage he triumphed, and to the utmost point he was victorious. Traces of weakness are manifest, but they are grandly overlaid by evidences of gracious power. The enemy could not triumph over Job, he threw him on a dunghill, and it became his throne, more glorious than the ivory throne of Solomon. The boils and blains with which the adversary covered the patriarch were more honour to him than a warrior’s gilded corslet. Never was the arch-fiend more thoroughly worsted than by the afflicted patriarch, and instead of pitying the sufferer, my pity curdles into contempt for that fallen spirit who must there have gnawed his own heart as he saw himself foiled at all points by one who had been put into his power, and one too of the feeble race of man.
4. We may once more say that the patience of Job is the virtue of one who thereby has become a great power for good. “Ye have heard of the patience of Job,” yes, and all the ages have heard of the patience of Job, and hell has heard of it too; and not without results in each of the three worlds. Among men the patience of Job is a great moral and spiritual force. If Job was patient under trial and affliction, why should not I be patient too? He was but a man; what was wrought in one man may be done in another. He had God to help him, and so have I; he could fall back upon the living Redeemer, so can I and why should I not?
II. IT IS NOT AN UNREASONABLE VIRTUE TO BE PATIENT, for according to our text there is great love and tenderness in it, “Ye have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.”
1. We must have seen in Job’s story, if we have regarded it aright, that the Lord was in all. God was not away while His servant suffered; in fact, if there was any place where the thoughts of God were centred more than anywhere else in providence at that time, it was where the perfect and upright man was bearing the brunt of the storm.
2. The Lord was ruling too. He was not present as a mere spectator but as still master of the situation,
3. Moreover, the Lord was blessing Job by all his tribulation. Untold blessings were coming to the grand old man while he seemed to be losing all. It was not simply that he obtained a double portion at the end, but all along, every part of the testing process wrought out his highest good.
4. And when we come to look all Job’s life through, we see that the Lord in mercy brought him out of it all with unspeakable advantage. He who tested with one hand supported with the other. Such is the case with all afflicted saints. We may well be patient under our trials, for the Lord sends them; He is ruling in all their circumstances, He is blessing us by them, He is waiting to end them, and He is pledged to bring us through. Shall we not gladly submit to the Father of our spirits? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The patience of Job
His impatience is not once mentioned against him; but he is crowned and chronicled here for his patience. God passeth by infirmities where the heart is upright. (J. Trapp.)
The secret of patience
A Christian friend, visiting a good man under great distress and afflicting dispensations, which he bore with such patient and composed resignation as to make his friend wonder and admire it, inquired how he was enabled so to comfort himself. The good man said, “The distress I am under is indeed severe; but I find it lightens the stroke very much to creep near to Him who handles the rod.” (W. Denton.)
As Richard Baxter lay dying, in the midst of exquisite pains which arose from the nature of his disease, he said, “I have a rational patience and a believing patience, though sense would recoil. Lord, when Thou wilt, what Thou wilt, how Thou wilt.”
There is no such thing as preaching patience into people unless the sermon is so long that they have to practise it while they hear. No man can learn patience except by going out into the hurly-burly world, and taking life just as it blows. Patience is but lying-to and riding out the gale. (H. W. Beecher.)
Impatience under affliction
The truth is, when we are under any affliction, we are generally troubled with a malicious kind of melancholy; we only dwell and pore upon the sad and dark occurrences of Providence; but never take notice of the more benign and bright ones. Our way in this world is like a walk under a row of trees, checkered with light and shade: and because we cannot all along walk in the sunshine, we therefore perversely fix only upon the darker passages, and so lose all the comfort of our comforts. We are like froward children who, if you take one of their playthings from them, throw away all the rest in spite. (Bp. Hopkins.)
There is a glass containing a liquid. There is a sediment at the bottom of the glass, but it is all perfectly clear above, as clear as the water from the spring. But shake the glass, and the whole liquid becomes muddy. That was there before, but it was not perceived because all was still. Shake it, and it comes up. Do you understand that, Christian? You thought you were all right; you thought you were walking with God, but temptation came and showed you what you were. Job said, “Once have I spoken”--ah! and wrongly--but now, “I will not answer.” “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” “Behold, I am vile.” Christian I your experience will not have been lost if it has taught you to know yourself. (S. H. Langston, M. A.)
Give God time
Suppose a man takes a great contract to build some large edifice in three or five years, and you go in three or five months, and criticise his work, and find fault with this and that. Would it not be unjust? Would he not say, “Please to wait until the work is completed before you pass your judgment upon it: then I will hear what you have to say about it.” God has a time in which to complete His work; and you are not to judge before the time. “He that believeth shall not make haste.” And when you see the end, you will be brought not only to submit to it but to approve it, and to see it is right. (S. H. Langston, M. A.)
The gladness of the gardener
It was said that a garden once became jealous of a park which adjoined it, because of a certain wonderfully beautiful bed of flowers with which the border between them was graced. The garden prayed the husbandman that she might have a bed of flowers too. “Oh, but you cannot water it if you have it. You have no fountain; it would die.” But the garden persisted: “Why could I not have a fountain put in?” The request was immediately granted. Axemen came in and hewed down trees; the sward was torn up with terribly large ploughshares; the garden groaned with pain, and hardly held still. Then the subsoil was probed for wandering and perilous roots, and the garden felt as if all its nerves were to quiver with unendurable agony. Then came men with spades, and channels of stone for drainage were laid; and by and by rocks were blasted with an awful roar of thunderbolts; and the garden screamed that it was aching with intolerable torments and lacerations. But nobody listened; there were nights that succeeded, concerning whose dreadful experiences that garden could never be made to speak in the after years. But one morning the surprise came; there was a rush of crystal spray in the air overhead, and the sunshine kindled it into rainbows. There was never a fountain like that fountain in any paradise of a prince. And the cool streams fell like gentle rain down on the bedof tulips and roses, the blossoming branches and the flowering shrubs. There was never a glory of hue and perfume, of nodding plumes and beading coronals, never such a bed of flowers in any parterre of a princess, as that. The garden, in deep quiet had nothing to say; it was very tired. But things would not need to be done over again. You see it requires courage to bear these agonies of tearing; but when the fountain plays, and the plants flourish, and the gardener comes in for a visit, the garden forgets the anguish in the discovery that the gardener is glad--glad for her sake. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Thomas Fuller wrote in reference to his own sufferings in the Civil War, “I have observed that towns which have been casually burnt, have been built again, more beautifully than before; mud walls afterwards made of stone; and roofs, formerly but thatched, after advanced to be tiled. The apostle tells me that I must not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to happen unto me. May I likewise prove improved by it. Let my renewed soul, which grows out of the ashes of the old man, be a more pious fabric and stronger structure: so shall affliction be my advantage.” (Tinling’s Illustrations.)
The inward glory of affliction
The outside of a stained window looks dingy and unsightly, it has no beauty or attraction; and so the coloured windows of pain, sickness, or bereavement may, to the children of this world, appear gloomy and uninviting; but from within what a grand and radiant sight is disclosed!--the common, familiar sights of this world are hidden, but what tiring light and glory is revealed within. (H. Macmillan.)
God’s purpose in troubles
Troubles are often the tools by which God fashions us for better things. Far up the mountainside lies a block of granite, and says to itself, “How happy am I in my serenity--above the winds, above the tree, almost above the flight of the birds! Here I rest age after age, and nothing disturbs me!” Yet what is it? It is only a bare block of granite, jutting out of the cliff, and its happiness is the happiness of death. By and by comes the miner, and with strong and repeated strokes he drills a hole in its top, and the rock says, “What does this mean?” Then the black powder is poured in, and with a blast that makes the mountain echo the block is blown asunder, and goes crashing down into the valley. “Ah!” it exclaims, as it falls, why this rending?” Then some one saws to cut and fashion it; and humbled now, and willing to be nothing, it is borne away from the mountain and conveyed to the city. Now it is chiselled and polished, till, at length, finished in beauty, by block and tackle it is raised with mighty hoistings, high in the air, to be the top-stone on some monument of the country’s glory. (H. W. Beecher.)
Wisdom of trials
Unthinking people would like a world where corn should grow spontaneously and plenty ever lie ready to hand. They would have their path beautified by flowers fairer than those of Eden, and refreshed by zephyrs balmier than those of the sunny south. They would banish care, and make work obsolete, How would all this issue? Doubtless in the degeneracy of our race into a crowd of soft and slothful Sybarites. God is too wise for this. He knows comfort to be of far less importance than character, and acts on that knowledge. (S. Coley.)
The Lord is very pitiful
The pitifulness of the Lord the comfort of the afflicted
We are far too apt to entertain hard thoughts of God. The horrible atheism of our depraved nature continually quarrels with the Most High; and when we are under His afflicting hand, and things go cross to our will, the evil of our nature becomes sadly evident. Let us never forget that our hard speeches and our suspicions of our God have always been libels upon Him. On taking a survey of our whole life, we see that the kindness of God has run all through it like a silver thread. Goodness and mercy have followed us all our days, even pursuing us when we have wickedly fled from them. Even our apparent ills have been real blessings. Let each restored man say, “He healeth all my diseases.” Let each tried one now say, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” Let the aged man bring the Spoils of his experience and lay them down at the feet of the Lord who hitherto hath helped him. Our desire will be to help one another to avoid future mumurings.
I. Notice that when James is exhorting us to full confidence in God in the hour of trial, He gives us AN INSTRUCTIVE INSTANCE. He quotes the story of Job. Observe that when this apostle introduces Job it is with the view of pointing out the tender mercy of God in his case; and he begins by saying, “Behold, we count them happy which endure.”
1. The pitifulness and tender mercy of God are to be seen in the happiness of those who are called to suffer. “We count them happy which endure.”
This arithmetic is only known to faith, and must be learned of the Lord Jesus “We”--that is, the Church of God--count them happy who are counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake. I may venture to say that the more sensible part of mankind in some measure concur with the people of God in this accounting. We count that man happy who has passed through trial and hardship with a brave endurance. Such life is of an interesting and manly kind; but life without struggle and difficulty is thin and tasteless. How can a noble life be constructed if there be no difficulty to overcome, no suffering to bear? When we see what poor, paltry things those are who are nursed in the lap of luxury, and consequently never come to a real manhood, “we count them happy that endure.” This counting is not mere fancy, but it is a correct estimate: there is a happiness in affliction which none will doubt who have tasted it. When we look to the end of affliction, when we see all its comfortable fruit, when we mark what it corrects, and observe what it produces, we judge that it is no mean blessing. Happy is the man who has been enabled to endure; he rises from the deeps of woe like a pearl-finder from the sea, rich beyond comparison. The people of God find themselves more buoyant in the saltest seas of sorrow than in other waters. The Cross does in very deed raise us nearer to Christ when it is fully sanctified. Rare gems glisten in the mines of adversity. We never get so near to the source of all heavenly consolation as when earthly comfort is removed far away. God seemeth never so much a Husband to any as to the widow; and never so much a Father as to the fatherless. Endurance also works in the child of God a close clinging to God, which produces near and dear communion with Him. Sorrows reveal to us the Man of Sorrows. Griefs waft us to the bosom of our God. Beside, the Lord has a choice way of manifesting Himself unto His servants in their times of weakness. He draws the curtain about the bed of His chosen sufferer, and at the same time He withdraws another curtain which aforetime concealed His glory, He takes away the delights of health and vigour, and then He implants energy of another and a higher order, so that the inner man waxeth mighty while the outer man decayeth. So wondrously doth grace work beyond nature that it transfigures bodily sickness into spiritual health.
2. Now notice here the notability--I had almost said the nobility--of endurance. As one truly says, Job’s bones had lain to this day in the common charnel-house of oblivion if it had not been for his sufferings and his patience. “Ye have heard of the patience of Job.” But you would never have heard of Job if he had always been prosperous. Even in worldly histories it is by enduring hardness that men build their memorials. Who that has read the classics has not heard of Mutius Scaevola? and why? He was a valiant man, but he did not win his name by a common deed in battle. His fights are unrecorded; but you have heard of his laying his right hand upon the burning coals of an altar, to let Porsenna see how a Roman could endure pain without shrinking. When he suffered his right hand to burn he was writing his name in his country’s annals. A thousand instances prove that only by endurance can names be graven in the brass of history. To make a man a man, to bring his manhood forward, and to make other men see it, there must be endurance.
3. Once again, in order to see the pitifulness of God in sorrow, we must see the Lord’s end in it; for, saith the apostle, “Ye have seen the end of the Lord.” God’s end in affliction is that which proves that He is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. We see not so much how grace works as what it works. The design of the Lord is more to be noted than the method He pursues.
(1) First, remember that the Lord’s end in sending affliction to His people is corrective. Sanctified sorrow is a sharp frost which kills the germs of spiritual disease.
(2) Moreover, affliction is sent for the display of grace. Our graces lie asleep within us, like slumbering soldiers, until affliction strikes its terrible drum and awakens them. You know not what spirit you are of till you have been under tribulation. You count yourself rich, but in the fire your gold is tested. You reckon that your house is well built, but the flames find out the wood, and hay, and stubble. Self-knowledge is never sure if it come not of tests and temptations. Therefore we count them happy that endure, because they are less likely to be deceived. God is to be praised for the discovery of our graces, for thus affliction becomes a blessing without disguise.
(3) Further, our trials are an education for the future. I do not think that Job was fit to have any more substance until his heart had been enlarged by trouble; then he could bear twice as much as before. Prosperity softens and renders us unfit for more of itself; but adversity braces the soul and hardens it to patience. Beloved, I would not have you forget that “the end of the Lord” is always with His tried people to give them greater happiness as the result of it. Mark, in Job 31:40 it is written, “The words of Job are ended,” ended amid thistles and cockle; but the end of the Lord was very different, for He loaded His servant with pieces of money and earrings of gold, and blessed his latter end more than his beginning. Thine end, O thou that art tossed with tempest and not comforted, shall come forth from thy God when He shall lay thy stones with fair colours and thy foundations with sapphires. He will restore thy soul even in this life, and give thee joy and rest out of thy sorrow. As for the life to come, how little do we take it into our estimate! It is as the main ocean, and this life is no better than the village brook. The sorrows of time are a mere pin’s prick at the most, if we contrast them with the joy eternal. What shall we think of these temporary inconveniences when we reach eternal felicity?
II. OUR APOSTLE MAKES CONSOLING STATEMENT: “The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.”
1. Observe that this is the teaching of God’s holy Word; and therefore if we have at this moment no evidence of it perceptible to sight or sense, we are bound to believe it all the same. Do not be persuaded by man or devil to think ill of thy God. He has a father’s heart even when He makes thee feel the strokes of His hand. Thy God cannot be unkind to thee. He cannot forsake thee.
2. But further, the text tells us that this truth may be seen; and while it is a matter of faith, yet it may be also a matter of sight. Beloved, it is true the Lord has burdened thee; is it not also true that He has sustained thee? Above is the billow, but “underneath are the everlasting arms.” See the pitifulness of God in this! How often the mercy of God is seen in sickness and suffering by His mitigating the pain and loss! Those who are washed in the blood of Jesus shall never be drowned in the sea of sorrow. Observe also the tender pity of God in forgiving the sin of His suffering people. When your child has a fever, it may be he is fretful, and begins to talk foolishly. Maybe he talks unkind things against those very persians whom in his heart he loves best. Do you ever say to the child afterwards, “John, I am very grieved that you said such shocking things about me and about your mother”? Far from it; you say, “Poor dear, he does not know what he is talking about; he is wandering ill his mind.” So does God deal with our naughtiness when we are under His hand; when He sees that it is rather weakness than wilfulness, He is very pitiful and full of compassion, and blots out the transgressions of His people.
3. See how the tenderness and pitifulness of God are also seen in the revelations lie makes to His saints. So also in the overrulings of our sorrows His love is conspicuous. He often sends a great sorrow that we may not be compelled to bear a greater one. Thank God for the preventive operations of His providence! Bless Him, above all, for the sweet rewards that come to His tried people when afterwards they bear the comfortable fruits of His righteousness, and especially when He comes to them in the riches of His grace, and turns their midnight into everlasting day. In closing the second head i should like to say I wish we could all read the original Greek; for this word, “The Lord is very pitiful,” is a specially remarkable one. It means literally that the Lord hath “many bowels,” or a great heart, and so it indicates great tenderness. The other word is the complement of the first--“and of tender mercy.” There is then, you see, in these two words, pity for misery and mercy for sin: there is inward pity in the heart of God, and outward action in the mercy of God; there is sympathy for suffering, and grace for guilt. These two things make up what we want.
III. THE LESSONS TO BE LEARNED out of the whole subject.
1. The first is, be patient. The Lord never grieves us because lie likes to grieve us. “He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.” There is a needs be for every sorrow. Lie still, brother; let the Good Shepherd clip as lie pleases; though He may cut very close to the skin, He is very pitiful, and would only rid thee of that which would harm thee.
2. The next lesson is, be penitent. Seek the Lord while lie may be found, call upon Him while He is near. He welcomes all who repent; He is eager to forgive; delay no longer.
3. The last lesson is, be pitiful. If God be pitiful and of tender mercy, children of God, you are to imitate Him and to be pitiful too. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
And of tender mercy
The mercy of God
Probably no one who believes that God is, disbelieves that He is merciful. But wherein the action of His mercy takes effect is not so clear but that minds may differ about it. Sometimes we figure the mercy of God acting like the mercy of man in granting exemption from responsibilities and liabilities. Mercy is said to be shown to a convict when the penalty imposed by law is in part or altogether remitted.
There are difficulties in the way of thus construing the action of God’s mercy. One is its contrariety to what we see of God in nature, in whose phenomena we can nowhere see any cut-off interposed between causes and effects, but a stringently maintained law of consequences. That this law of nature is also a law of moral nature seems to be attested by the spiritual maxim: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Another difficulty in the way of supposing that the mercy of God works by remission of consequences, like the mercy of man, is in the doubtful utility of such a method. It is hardly to be doubted that the moral tone of society would be far more healthful than it is were there less interference, in the name of mercy, with the consequences of violated law. For a man to imagine he may lie or steal, and escape the evil consequence, is most immoral and dangerous. It fosters this illusion, whenever a weak, good nature averts from a guilty back the scourge of just consequence, Mercy does not seek first to make men comfortable, but to make them morally sound and strong in conformity to right. For this, a strict subjection to the consequences of conduct, whether in the State or in the family, is indispensable. It is not in the way of release from any part of our just responsibilities that we must think of the mercy of God. “Every man shall bear his own burden.” Quite congruous with this is a saying in Psalms 62:1-12, where we shall find the mercy of God if we are thus strictly subjected to the law of consequences: “To Thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy; for Thou renderest to everyman according to his work.” While this affirms the benevolence of strictly holding us to accountability for whatever is our work, it also permits us to think of a procedure which--at least, in comparison with human judgments--deserves to be called merciful. When we discriminate in a man’s work that which is strictly his from that which is the work of his parents, or teachers, or of disease, or of the spirit of his time, even a wicked man appears less culpable. Many a man shows the work of his father, or of his surroundings, mixed with his own. If childhood has been subjected to a training which stunts virtue or piety, the resulting vice or scepticism of the man is not all his work. To unravel the tangled skein of responsibility, to crown each man with the pearls or thorns which are due to the work that is strictly his, is the perogative of that Divine judgment which the sinner, thus dealt with, may well deem merciful. In what appears to us the most execrable life, Omniscient may discriminate in the wreck the contributing agency of more than one wrongdoer. Where human judgments are unmerciful in loading one with the guilt of many, the mercy of God appears in apportioning to each no more than is strictly his own. To this we have to add the work of mercy in the forgiveness of sins--the blotting out of offences by the kiss that makes the prodigal again atone with the father--the inspirations of filial trust in the grace of God, by which the forgiven one is empowered to retrieve and repair the past, till the tear of repentance is dry in the joy of a complete remission of his sins. (J. M.Whiton, Ph. D.)
Against rash and vain swearing
Let us consider THE NATURE OF AN OATH, and what we do when we adventure to swear. It is an “assuming the name of our God,” and applying it to our purpose, to countenance and confirm what we say. It is an invocation of God as a most faithful witness, concerning the truth of our words, or the sincerity of our meaning. It is an appeal to God as a most upright Judge, whether we do prevaricate in asserting what we do not believe true, or in promising what we are not firmly resolved to perform. It is a formal engagement of God to be the Avenger of our trespassing in violation of truth or faith. It is a “binding our souls” with a most strict and solemn obligation, to answer before God, and to undergo the issue of His judgment about what we affirm to undertake. Whence we may collect that swearing doth require great modesty and composedness of spirit, very serious consideration and solicitous care that we be net rude and saucy with God, “in taking up His name,” and prostituting it to vile or mean uses; that we do not abuse or debase His authority, by citing it to aver falsehoods or impertinences; that we do not slight His venerable justice, by rashly provoking it against us; that we do not precipitantly throw our souls into most dangerous snares and intricacies.
II. We may consider THAT SWEARING, AGREEABLY TO ITS NATURE AND TENDENCY, IS REPRESENTED IN HOLY SCRIPTURE AS A SPECIAL PART OF RELIGIOUS WORSHIP; in the due performance of which we avow God for the Governor of the world, piously acknowledging His principal attributes and special prerogatives; it also intimates a pious trust and confidence in Him. If we do presume to offer this service, we should do it in the manner appointed by God Himself; the cause of it must be very needful or expedient, the design honest and useful; otherwise we desecrate swearing, and are guilty of profaning a most sacred ordinance,
III. We may consider THAT THE SWEARING PROHIBITED IS VERY NOXIOUS TO HUMAN SOCIETY. AS by the rare and reverent use of oaths their dignity is upheld, and their obligation kept fast; so by the frequent and negligent application of them, by the prostituting them to every mean and toyish purpose, their respect will be quite lost, their strength will be loosed, they will prove unserviceable to public use.
IV. Let us consider THAT RASH AND VAIN SWEARING IS VERY APT OFTEN” TO BRING THE PRACTISER OF IT INTO THAT MOST HORRIBLE SIN OF PERJURY. For “false swearing,” as Philo saith, “naturally springeth out of much swearing”; and “he” saith St. Chrysostom, “that sweareth continually, both willingly and unwillingly, both ignorantly and knowingly, both in earnest and in sport, being often transported by anger and many other things, will frequently forswear. It is confessed and manifest, that it is necessary for him that sweareth much to be perjurious.”
VI. Likewise THE USE OF RASH SWEARING WILL OFTEN ENGAGE A MAN IN UNDERTAKINGS VERY INCONVENIENT AND DETRIMENTAL TO HIMSELF.
VII. Let us consider THAT SWEARING IS A SIN OF ALL OTHERS PECULIARLY CLAMOROUS, AND PROVOCATIVE OF DIVINE JUDGMENT. God is hardly so much concerned, or in a manner constrained, to punish any other sin as this. He is bound in honour and interest to vindicate His name from the abuse, His authority from the contempt, His holy ordinance from the profanation, which it cloth infer.
VIII. Farther (passing over the special laws against it, the mischievous consequences of it, the sore punishments appointed to it), we may consider THAT TO COMMON SENSE VAIN SWEARING IS A VERY UNREASONABLE AND ILL-FAVOURED PRACTICE, GREATLY MISBECOMING ANY SOBER, WORTHY, OR HONEST PERSON”; but especially most absurd and incongruous to a Christian.
IX. THE PRACTICE OF SWEARING GREATLY DISPARAGES HIM THAT USES IT, AND DEROGATES FROM HIS CREDIT, INASMUCH AS IT SIGNIFIES THAT HE DOES NOT CONFIDE IN HIS OWN REPUTATION; by it he authorises others to distrust him; it renders what he says to be in reason suspicious, as discovering him to be void of conscience and discretion, etc.
X. TO EXCUSE THESE FAULTS THE SWEARER WILL DE FORCED TO CONFESS THAT HIS OATHS ARE NO MORE THAN WASTE AND INSIGNIFICANT WORDS; deprecating the being taken for serious, or to be understood that he means anything by them.
XI. But farther, ON HIGHER ACCOUNTS THIS IS A VERY UNCIVIL AND UNMANNERLY PRACTICE: some vain persons take it for a genteel and graceful accomplishment; but in truth there is no practice more crossing the genuine nature of gentility, or misbecoming persons well born and well bred.
XII. Moreover, the words of our Lord, when He forbad this practice, SUGGEST ANOTHER CONSIDERATION AGAINST IT DEDUCIBLE FROM THE CAUSES AND SOURCES OF IT.
XIII. Farther, THIS OFFENCE MAY BE AGGRAVATED BY CONSIDERING THAT IT HATH NO STRONG TEMPTATION ALLURING TO IT; that it gratifies no sense, yields no profit, procures no honour: the vain swearer has not the common plea of human infirmity to excuse him.
XIV. Let us consider that, as we ourselves with all our members and powers were chiefly designed and made to glorify our Maker, which is our greatest privilege, so OUR TONGUE AND SPEAKING FACULTY WERE GIVEN US TO DECLARE OUR ADMIRATION AND REVERENCE OF HIM, exhibit our love and gratitude towards Him, to profess our trust in Him, to celebrate His praises and avow His benefits: wherefore to apply this to any impious discourse, and to profane His holy name, is an unnatural abuse of it, and horrid ingratitude towards Him. Likewise a secondary and worthy use of speech is to promote the good of our neighbour, according to the precept of the apostle (Ephesians 4:29), but the practice of vain swearing serves to corrupt him, and instil into him a contempt of religion.
XV. Lastly, we should consider TWO THINGS; first, that our blessed Saviour, who did and suffered so much for us, and who said, “If ye love Me, keep My commandments,” thus positively hath enjoined: “But I say unto you, swear not at all”: secondly, we shall consider well the reason with which St. James enforces the point, and the sting in the close of the text; “but above all things, my brethren, swear notlest ye fall into condemnation.” (L Barrow, D. D.)
The prohibition of swearing
There was an old saying, now unhappily quite grotesque in its incongruity with facts, that “an Englishman’s word is as good as his bored.” What Christ and St. James say is that a Christian’s word should be as good as his oath. There ought to be no need of oaths. Anything over and above simple affirming or denying “cometh of the evil one.” It is because Satan, the father of lies, has introduced falsehood into the world that oaths have come into use. Among Christians there should be no untruthfulness, and therefore no oaths. The use of oaths is an index of the presence of evil; it is a symptom of the prevalence of falsehood. But the use of oaths is not only a sign of the existence of mischief, it is also apt to be productive of mischief. It is apt to produce a belief that there are two kinds of truth, one of which it is a serious thing to violate, viz., when you are on your oath; but the other of which it is a harmless, or at least a venial thing to violate, viz., when falsehood is only falsehood, and not perjury. And this, both among Jews and among Christians, produces the further mischievous refinement that some oaths are more binding than others, and that only when the most stringent form of oath is employed is there any real obligation to speak the truth. How disastrous all such distinctions are to the interests of truth, abundant experience has testified:’ for a common result is this--that people believe that they are free to lie as much as they please, so long as the lie is not supported by the particular kind of oath which they consider to be binding. But the main question is whether the prohibition is absolute; whether our Lord and St. James forbid the use of oaths for any purpose whatever; and it must be admitted that the first impression which we derive from their words is that they do. Tilts view is upheld by not a few Christians as the right interpretation of both passages. But further investigation does not confirm the view which is derived from a first impression as to the meaning of the words. Against it we have, first, the fact that the Mosaic Law not only allowed, but enjoined the taking of an oath in certain circumstances; and Christ would hardly have abrogated the law, and St. James would hardly have contradicted it, without giving some explanation of so unusual a course; secondly, the indisputable practice of the early Church, of St. Paul, and of our Lord Himself. (A. Plummer, D. D.)
A warning against oaths
1. It has not been an uncommon thing for men to take vows in trouble, as if they would do them any good. They have promised if certain ends could be attained to pursue certain courses of life: and sometimes to give a supposed greater efficacy, they have bound themselves with oaths. The Hebrew Christians in the first century were peculiarly exposed to this. The evil of it lay in transferring their confidence from the grace and power of God to the vows they were making, and thus begetting in them a strong tendency to confidence in magic.
2. It may have been a warning to |hem, not to swear when they were brought before Roman magistrates, or were in the company of Pagan persecutors, in order to show by such words that they were not Christians.
3. The injunction might have applied to the temptation there was among them to conspire together in sworn bands against their persecutors; as was frequently the case in their own age and has been ever since. James saw the futility of all seditious movements. He saw that it plunged his brethren only into deeper and deeper troubles; wherefore, he besought them not to seek such modes of relief, not to bind themselves to others, or others to themselves, in order to effect deliverance, but to put all in the hand of God.
4. But whether any or all of these considerations were in the mind of our author, it is quite certain that he pronounced a very emphatic denunciation against profanity. This is a sin against God and against one’s self. It is a sin against God, because it deprives Him of the honour due to His name, and is in direct disobedience to His command. The sin is not mitigated by modifications of phraseology. In the next place, it is hurtful to any man to become an habitual swearer. It is an effectual bar to his ever being great. It is utterly impossible, whatever other gifts and opportunities be afforded, that a man shall ever reach the utmost possible greatness of humanity, who himself fails to have reverence for that which is great. Reverence is the spring of all aspiration, the foundation for all lofty upbuilding of character. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)
The vice of profane swearing (and all swearing about ordinary matters is profane) is a strange one. Where is the pleasure of it? Where, before it becomes a fashion or a habit, is the temptation to it? Where, in any case, is the sense of it? There is pleasure in gluttony, in drunkenness, in lust, in pride, in avarice, in revenge. But where is the pleasure in an oath? The sensualist, the hypocrite, the miser, and the murderer can at least plead strong temptation, can at least urge that they get something, however pitiful, in exchange for eternal loss. But what can the blasphemer plead? what does he get in exchange for his soul? In times of strong excitement it is no doubt a relief to the feelings to use strong language; but what is gained by making the strong language trebly culpable by adding blasphemy to it? Besides which, there is the sadly common case of those who use blasphemous words when there is no temptation to give vent to strong feeling in strong language, who habitually swear in coldblood. Let no one deceive himself with the paltry excuse that he cannot help it, or that there is no harm in it. A resolution to do something disagreeable every time an oath escaped one’s lips would soon bring about a cure. And let those who profess to think that there is no harm in idle swearing ask themselves whether they expect to repeat that plea when they give an account for every idle word at the day of judgment (Matthew 12:36). (A. Plummer, D. D.)
That the condemnation does not extend to the solemn judicial use of oaths we see in the facts--
1. That our Lord answered when questioned as on oath by Caiaphas Matthew 26:63-64); and--
2. That St. Paul at times used modes of expression which are essentially of the nature of an oath (2 Corinthians 1:23; Romans 1:9; Galatians 1:20; Philippians 1:8). (Dean Plumptre.)
The practice of the Essenes
It is not without interest to note that in this respect the practice of the Essenes, in their efforts after holiness, was after the pattern of the preaching of St. James. They, too, avoided oaths as being no less an evil than perjury itself (Josephus, “Wars” 2:8, 85). They, however, with a somewhat strange inconsistency, bound the members of their own society by “tremendous oaths” of obedience and secrecy. (Dean Plumptre.)
Evil of swearing
Swear not at all, lest by swearing ye come to a facility of swearing; flora a facility to a custom; and from a custom ye fall into perjury. (Augustine.)
Is any among you afflicted?
let him pray
The apostle here suggests the grand resource for affliction--it is God. We would render the word “pray,” not in its narrower import of mere petitioning, but in its more enlarged construction, of converse, of fellowship, with God.
I. GOD, THE EXCHANGE, THE COMPENSATION, FOR FORFEITED JOYS. If the poor child of adversity would be persuaded to lift himself from that scene of his sore travail to the fountain of supreme blessedness, to soar from that shipwreck of his creature joys to the uncreated centre of joy, then would he solve the grand moral of affliction. There is nothing but mockery in those spurious expedients of relief to which the worldling resorts. But there is ineffable beatitude in God. What a transition! From “broken cisterns, which can hold no water,” to “the fountain of living waters”; from fallacious and treacherous joys to the fountain of perennial joy; from the very wreck and demolition of earthly hopes to Him who is the sun and consummation of all hope. Even believers are slow to make God their prime solace. They are prone to transfer themselves to some new idol when one has been taken away; to dear with a morbid tenacity on visions of the past; to feed on the dust and ashes of their own profuse lamentations--the morose wakings of excessive grief. To all such the watchword prescribes itself--Betake you to God.
II. GOD, THE CENTRE OF THE SOUL’S FELLOWSHIP. It is very marked, in the history of affliction, what a charm communion of mind with mind exerts. If there be any unison of sentiment at all, the reciprocity which occurs is most congenial; in point of fact it is one of the expedients to which affliction betakes itself to arrest the converse of kindred minds. There is probably no more potent creature resource. And we have only to estimate what a transcendent charm must lie in fellowship with God, in communion with Him who is consummate wisdom and excellence, and truth and benignity.
III. GOD, THE FOUNTAIN OF EXHAUSTLESS SYMPATHIES. There is nothing which exerts such a charm in the hour of adversity as tender, sensitive fellow-feeling. And hence the downcast and sorrowful seek some sympathetic bosom into which they may pour their griefs. But for a sympathy surpassing all other sympathies, we point you to Christ. Repair to that bosom, all fraught with fellow-feeling; throw thyself into the embrace of that yearning tenderness.
IV. GOD, A PRESENT HELP IN TROUBLE. There are two aspects in which this holds good. On the one hand, God is specially ready to ]end His ear in the day of His people’s affliction; and, next, the succour which He supplies is specially adapted to their emergency. (Adam Forman.)
Prayer in affliction
The family of the afflicted is a large one, and a wide-spread one. It forms a great nation on the earth; and its members are to be found in every country, and in every rank and condition of life. It is an old nation. The first human beings were the first members of it; and an unbroken succession has kept it up ever since. This is the one nation in the world that shows no symptom of decline or fall. It is an honourable nation. There was One belonged to it whose name hallows it: our Blessed Redeemer was a Man of sorrows. The wisest of men found that in much wisdom is much grief. Great forms of majesty: the just whose memory is blessed, the kind whose memory is loved, the ancient seer, the inspired apostle, the crowned martyr rise before the mind as it recalls the past, and reads the long roll of afflicted men. It is our own nation. Affliction is the birthright of all. Some of you feel it is so at this moment. Many have found it so, in the experience of departed days. All will find it so, sooner or later. “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray.” This is not the prescription of mere worldly wisdom, for the cure of great grief. There is no difficulty in this world in finding people who will give you advice as to what you ought to do, when great sorrow comes your way; Try change of scene, they will say; Go to places that suggest no sad associations and call up no bitter thoughts: Open your heart to the tide of cheerfulness that is flowing all around you. Or perhaps they may say, Go into society. Mix with your fellow-men. Or they will bid you trust to time--time the never-failing comforter. Or, if nothing else will do--if your affliction be one that clings to your life, and makes the condition of your being--then the worldly counsel would be to bear your grief like a man. Now I do not mean to say, nor did the apostle mean to say, but what there is some wisdom and some good in all these things. Still, the good man did not think that any of these ways of meeting affliction was the best. His way is very shortly named. “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray!” No matter what be the cause of your affliction: no matter what be the particular pang with which it rends your heart: no matter what be the constitution of your body, or the complexion of your mind: here is a remedy which the apostle prescribes, without explanation or restriction, for all sorts and conditions of men. Surely then, if the apostle be right, there must be something very strange about prayer. The diseases of the body are many; but then the remedies which physicians prescribe for their cure are very various. But it seems that St. James was of opinion that no afflicted man could ever do wrong when he turned to prayer. And probably we may find the reason why the apostle attached such a mighty efficacy to prayer, when we consider two things about it.
1. First, the afflicted person should pray, because prayer is the best way to bring about the removal of his affliction. In speaking to Christian people, it is needless to say that prayer does not consist of words vaguely cast adrift with no clear end: prayer is a real speaking to a God who hears: a real asking Him for something, about which He will consider whether or not it be good for us: and then our asking, if it be good for us, will truly induce Him to give it us. And yet, I fear that all of us are often very far from properly feeling what a great reality there is in the power of prayer. When a friend you loved lay sick of some dangerous malady, tossing restlessly on a sleepless pillow; and when you had mixed the composing draught and given it to his feverish lips, and then lifted up your heart to God on his behalf, did you feel that that prayer might be just as real a cause of repose or of convalescence as anything that medical skill could suggest, or careful love supply? When you were involved in some perplexing entanglement, were you sure that the silent moments you spent in prayer to your Maker, were just as useful towards clearing up the way before you, as all the address and prudence you were master of? Or, when sickness came your way, and you counted weary days of unrest and suffering, were you then sure that the morning and evening supplication might stand you in better steal than all your physician’s skill? Do you, in short, remember every day of your life, that prayer is the best step towards any end you are aiming at; and that, of all the means that tend to bring about the purpose you are seeking to accomplish, prayer is the very last that you can in prudence omit? If you fail to do all this, you are showing by your practice that you do not truly feel the power of the agency which by prayer you can set in motion.
2. But I dare not say that prayer will certainly take away the affliction for the removal of which you ask. It will do so only if it be God’s will it should; and He knows best whether your prayer should be directly granted. It cannot be, then, that St. James would have the afflicted pray, merely because by prayer they might reasonably expect to get quit of their affliction: there must be something about prayer even more salutary than its virtue to change the natural course of events: and apart altogether from the hope that thus he may find escape from the cause of his sorrow, there must be good reason in the nature of things why the afflicted man should pray. And such reason there is. Prayer has been the talisman that has made years of constant pain to be remembered as the happiest period of life; prayer is that which has made many a poor sufferer tell that it was good for him or her to be afflicted, for affliction had been the sharp spur to turn those feet into the narrow way, which otherwise might have trodden the broad road to perdition. Prayer, earnest prayer offered in the Saviour’s name, never yet went for nothing. If it did not bring the thing it asked for, it brought the grace to do without it: but it never went to the winds. These sufferers found it so. Day by day, gentle resignation kept stealing into their soul, till not a thought ever disturbed their quiet, of what they might have been and were not: and till, from the bottom of their heart, they could pity the worldling that pitied them. For their affliction had been the severe discipline by which God had schooled them for a better country, and weaned their affections from the things of time and sense. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
I. CHRISTIANS ARE SUBJECT TO A VARIETY OF EXPERIENCE. “Afflicted.” “Merry.” Suffering. Enjoyment.
1. They imply the existence of two opposite principles: good and evil.
2. The susceptibility of the human heart to the influences of circumstances. Like -AEolian harp swept by wind. Emotions rise and fall with events.
3. The unsettledness of human life.
(1) All are subject to them.
(a) Both are found at the same time in different persons.
(b) Both are found at different times in the same persons.
(2) No one rests long in either.
(a) The change from the one to the other is sometimes sudden.
(b) the change from one to the other is sometimes extreme.
(3) They are necessary--
(a) To prevent evil. Pride on the one hand; despair on the other.
(b) To promote good. Complete development of character.
(4) They are under Divine control.
II. CHRISTIANS HAVE A CORRESPONDING “VARIETY OF RELIGIOUS DUTY TO DISCHARGE. “Pray.” “Sing psalms.” This teaches--
1. The naturalness of religion. Instinctively men pray in troubles and sing in joy. Nothing arbitrary in piety.
2. The permanence of religion. Whether God “gives” or “takes away,” the response is, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
3. The value of religion.
(1) In affliction it teaches prayer. This means communion with God. He is almighty, loving, unchangeable.
(2) In prosperity it teaches praises.
(a) Acknowledgment of the Author of it.
(b) Satisfaction with the measure of it.
(c) Enjoyment of the possession of it. Happiness is a religious duty; recommends religion; most resembles heaven.
1. Misery is possible in prosperity. Belshazzar, &c.
2. Joy is possible in adversity. “Rejoice in tribulation.”
3. Uniformity of experience and duty in heaven. No prayer; no affliction. All prosperous; all sing. (B. D. Johns.)
Discipline of affliction
When one considers the amount of affliction which exists in the world, we may well wonder that the simple remedy in the text is as yet an untasted medicine to so many. Can it be that it is too simple? Can it be that, as there are so many who rate the efficacy of drugs by their loathsomeness to the taste, so men would rather seek some painful process or mighty labour than the simple means which God’s Word provides? Such, indeed, was the temper of Naaman (2 Kings 5:11-12). And it is no uncommon temper; for men do not like to be treated like children, and they forget that unless they are so treated they lose the children’s blessing, the children’s kingdom! He who struggles with affliction without prayer struggles in his own strength alone, and rejects every other. And what is this but struggling against God; wrestling with Him, but not as Jacob did; and, therefore, coming off from the contest crippled indeed, but without the blessing which the patriarch won? Thus, indeed, a heart may be in some measure and in a few cases (for in the great number nature will rebel and revenge herself) hardened, rather than strengthened, under suffering. But a miserable comfort it would be, even though one did achieve a heart of stone! God grant that such an one may yet be smitten of God until the waters of healing gush forth! And in what spirit can affliction be received by persons who must believe, whether they will or no, that it comes from the hand of God? If not in the spirit of prayer, in what spirit besides? Must it not be even in the spirit of cursing? And cursing is a kind of miserable prayer; a prayer for evil, and not for good; a prayer, in fact, to the evil one instead of God. Those who have earnestly and perseveringly tried will not be at a loss to know the advantage of obeying the precept. But it will not be without use and interest even for them to recall the times of their trial--how they prayed, and how they were heard, in those extremities which brought them, as it were, immediately before the footstool and the mercy-seat of the Lord. It may be that they have never so prayed again--so passionately, so faithfully, so importunately! And it may be that this will explain many a failure in faith and duty, many a relapse into sin, which seemed impossible--ay, and was impossible--in the fervour of their devotion then I But there are many besides who have never tried. And these may ask the question, half-wondering, half-scoffing, “What will the afflicted man gain by praying? will he obtain the removal of his affliction?” In some cases he may obtain even this, but for the most part he will not. He must not expect it. Why should he expect it? How can he expect it, when he has once understood that his affliction comes from God? For what purpose but for good does God afflict those who pray to Him? And if for good, then, what good would it be to have the tribulation removed before it has had its perfect work?
1. The first answer to our prayers is patience under the trial. This is but little, indeed, in itself; but it is much when compared with anything that any other comforter can give. It makes a Christian look into his own heart; and it tells him--yea, makes him tell himself--how far less than his sins have deserved are all the chastisements which are laid upon him--how well, how mercifully he is dealt with by the God against whom he has sinned. And he has the conviction borne in upon his soul that he will not be tried above that he is able to bear, but that with every trial there will be given either the grace to withstand or a way to escape,
2. From patience, such patience as the mourner receives in answer to his prayer, there is a short, a scarcely perceptible step to comfort; and yet, short as the step is, this is a new gift, a most precious additional blessing. It dwells and reflects on the visitation which has called it forth; it realises His presence in the cloud; and, behold, the cloud becomes a pillar of fire giving light in the darkness! It sees the particular points in which mercy has tempered His judgments, and it feels; even if it cannot see, His lovingkindness interfused throughout the whole. And those who are thus comforted have a further and most precious privilege--to comfort others as none else can (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). It is the privilege of those who have been themselves cast into the furnace to give assurance of the Son of God walking with them in the midst of the fire. But comfort is not all we want; and God therefore gives us more.
3. More guidance we need, because our duties become by every trial new and multiplied. More strength we feel that we need, because our affliction has taught us our own weakness. But He has said that “His strength is sufficient for us; for in our weakness is His strength made perfect.” He has taught His apostle, and us through him, to say, “I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me”; as surely as Christ Himself taught us that “apart from Him we can do nothing.”
4. And thus we are led on to look to the future: and that further blessing is revealed to us which our affliction is to work--the blessing of faith in God. By this we become no more servants, but friends, not only believing, but knowing what God doeth; not only obeying, but working with Him, through Christ, in His work.
5. And this brings hope with it; a hope unlike the earthly hopes which we have seen mocking us and coming to nought; or, if fulfilled, mocking us still more, till we loathed their fulfilment, and despised ourselves for indulging in them; but this, a hope that maketh not ashamed; for its root is in the love of God and the Holy Spirit which He has given us; its blossom is in the multiplying graces with which the Saviour rewards every step in our sanctification; and its fruit is found in the certainty of that heavenly region where hope itself can no longer find a place, but dies into fruition, as the night dies into the morning. And can more still be said? Yes! there is one blessing further vouchsafed even in this world to those who are sanctified and purified by suffering, so much beyond all comfort and all hope, that the Christian who recognises it in the saints who are with Christ trembles and shrinks from appropriating it to himself, lest the very chastisements of God should minister to unchristian presumption. Yet it is written--written for our comfort and our glory--written, too, for our warning, lest we fall from such privilege and grace--that the children whom God chastises are thereby even conformed to the likeness of that only begotten Son who is the brightness of His Father’s glory and the express image of His person. And if these are the earthly fruits of God’s chastisements when sanctified by prayer, what are the heavenly? If these are even the earthly fruits--as most truly, most assuredly they are--who that has once tasted their power would pray for the withdrawal of his affliction, for the removal of the earthly trial which is working the eternal blessing? As we could not, as no Christian could pray--even though it were possible--to do away with the redeeming sufferings of His Saviour; so we may not, cannot wish deliverance from the sufferings whereby we are made unto Him. But as He prayed more earnestly in His agony, so must we in ours--not that the cup be removed, unless it be God’s will, but that all His visitations may have their perfect work in us; that we may be indeed conformed to His likeness here; and that, with those who as joint-heirs with Him have entered into their inheritance, we may have our final consummation and bliss in His glory hereafter. (Dean Scott.)
Piety in unequal temporal conditions
1. Our temporal condition is various and diverse; now afflicted, and then merry. Our prosperity is like glass, brittle when shining. The complaint of the Church may be the motto of all the children of God (Psalms 102:10).
2. This is the perfection of Christianity, to carry an equal pious mind in unequal conditions (Philippians 4:12). Most men are fit but for one condition. Some cannot carry a full cup without spilling. Others cannot carry a full load without breaking. Sudden alterations perplex both body and mind. It is the mighty power of grace to keep the soul in an equal temper.
3. Several conditions require several duties. The Christian conversation is like a wheel--every spoke taketh its turn. God hath planted in a man affections for every condition, grace for every affection, and a duty for the exercise of every grace, and a season for every duty. The children of the Lord are “like trees planted by the rivers of water, that bring forth their fruit in due season” (Psalms 1:3). There is no time wherein God doth not invite us to Himself. It is wisdom to perform what is most seasonable.
4. It is of excellent advantage in religion to make use of the present affection; of sadness, to put us upon prayer; of mirth, to put us upon thanksgiving. The soul never worketh more sweetly than when it worketh in the force of some eminent affection. With what advantage may we strike when the iron is hot! When the affections are stirred up on a carnal occasion, convert them to a religious use (Jeremiah 22:10). When the affections are once raised, give them a right object, otherwise they are apt to degenerate and to offend in their measure, though their first occasion was lawful.
5. Prayer is the best remedy for sorrows. Griefs are eased by groans and utterance. We have great cause in afflictions to use the help of prayer.
(1) That we may ask patience. If God lay on a great burden, cry for a strong back.
(2) That we may ask constancy (Psalms 125:3).
(3) That we may ask hope, and trust and wait upon God for His fatherly love and care.
(4) That we may ask a gracious improvement. The benefit of the rod is a fruit of the Divine grace, as well as the benefit of the Word.
(5) That we may ask deliverance, with a submission to God’s will Psalms 34:7).
6. Thanksgiving, or singing to God’s praise, is the proper duty in the time of mercies or comforts. It is God’s bargain and our promise, that if He would “deliver us,” we would “glorify Him” (Psalms 50:15). Mercies work one way or another; they either become the fuel of our lusts or our praises; either they make us thankful or wanton. Your condition is either a help or a hindrance in religion. Awaken yourselves to this service; every new mercy calleth for a new song.
7. Singing of psalms is a duty of the gospel. (T. Manton.)
Prosper in affliction
Who doubteth but God did mitigate the heaviness of Joseph, although He sent not hasty deliverance in his long imprisonment; and that as He gave him favour in the sight of the jailer, so inwardly also He gave him consolation in spirit? (John Knox.)
Prayer and praise voaths
Prayer and praise, or (in one word) worship, according to St. James, is the Christian remedy for “allaying or carrying off the fever of the mind.” (A. Plummer, D. D.)
Use of sickness
During Dr. Payson’s last illness, a friend coming into his room said, “Well, I am sorry to see you lying there on your back.” “Do you not know what God puts us on our backs for?” said Dr. Payson, smiling. “No,” was the answer. “In order that we may look upward.”
Is any merry? let him sing psalms
Religious worship a remedy for excitements
Indisposition of body shows itself in a pain somewhere or other--a distress which draws our thoughts to it, impedes our ordinary way of going on, and throws the mind off its balance. Such, too, is indisposition of the soul, of whatever sort, be it passion or affection, hope or fear, joy or grief. It takes us off from the clear contemplation of the next world, ruffles us, and makes us restless. In a word, it is what we call an excitement of mind. Excitements are the indisposition of the mind; and of these excitements in different ways the services of Divine worship are the proper antidotes. How they are so shall now be considered.
1. Excitements are of two kinds--secular and religious. First, let us consider secular excitements. Such is the pursuit of gain, or of power, or of distinction. Amusements are excitements; the applause of a crowd, emulations, hopes, risks, quarrels, contests, disappointments, successes. In such eases the object pursued naturally absorbs the mind, and excludes all thoughts but those relating to itself. Thus a man is sold over into bondage to this world. He has one idea, and one only before him, which becomes his idol. The most ordinary of these excitements, at least in this country, is the pursuit of gain. A man may live from week to week in the fever of a decent covetousness, to which he gives some more specious name (for instance, desire of doing his duty by his family), till the heart of religion is eaten out of him. Now, then, observe what is the remedy. “Is any afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.” Here we see one very momentous use of prayer and praise to all of us; it breaks the current of worldly thoughts. And this is the singular benefit of stated worship, that it statedly interferes with the urgency of worldly excitements. Our daily prayer, morning and evening, suspends our occupations of time and sense. And especially the daily prayers of the Church do this. It is impossible (under God’s blessing) for any one to attend the daily service of the Church “with reverence and godly fear,” and a wish and effort to give his thoughts to it, and not find himself thereby sobered and brought to recollection. What kinder office is there, when a man is agitated, than for a friend to put his hand upon him by way of warning, to startle and recall him? It often has the effect of saving us from angry words, or extravagant talking, or inconsiderate jesting, or rash resolves. And such is the blessed effect of the sacred services on Christians busied about many things, reminding them of the one thing needful, and keeping them from being drawn into the great whirlpool of time and sense.
2. Next, let us consider how religious excitements are set right by the same Divine medicine. If we had always continued in the way of light and truth, obeying God from childhood, doubtless we should know little of those swellings and tumults of the soul which are so common among us. Men who have grown up in the faith and fear of God have a calm and equable piety; so much so, that they are often charged on that very account with being dull, cold, formal, insensible, dead to the next world. Now, it stands to reason that a man who has always lived in the contemplation and improvement of his gospel privileges, will not feel that agitating surprise and vehemence of joy which he would feel, and ought to feel, if he had never known anything of them before. The jailer, who for the first time heard the news of salvation through Christ, gave evident signs of transport. This certainly is natural and right; still, it is a state of excitement, and, if I might say it, all states of excitement have dangerous tendencies. Now, this advice is often given: “Indulge the excitement; when you flag, seek for another; live upon the thought of God; go about doing good; let your light shine before men; tell them what God has done for your soul.” By all which is meant, when we go into particulars, that they ought to fancy that they have something above all other men; ought to neglect their worldly calling, or at best only bear it as a cross; to join themselves to some particular set of religionists; to take part in this or that religious society; go to hear strange preachers, and obtrude their new feelings and new opinions upon others, at times proper and improper. If there was a time when those particular irregularities, which now are so common, were likely to abound, it was in the primitive Church. Men who had lived all their lives in the pollutions of sin unspeakable, who had been involved in the darkness of heathenism, were suddenly brought to the light of Christian truth. Their sins were all freely forgiven them, clean washed away in the waters of baptism. A new world of ideas was opened upon them, and the most astonishing objects presented to their faith. What a state of transport must have been theirs! And what an excited and critical state was theirs! Critical and dangerous in proportion to its real blessedness; for in proportion to the privileges we enjoy, ever will be our risk of misusing them. How, then, did they escape that enthusiasm which now prevails, that irreverence, immodesty, and rudeness? If at any time the outward framework of Christianity was in jeopardy, surely it was then. How was it the ungovernable elements within it did not burst forth and shiver to pieces the vessel which contained them? How was it that for fifteen hundred years the Church was preserved from those peculiar affections of mind and irregularities of feeling and conduct which now torment it like an ague? Now, certainly, looking at external and second causes, the miracles had much to do in securing this blessed sobriety in the early Christians. These kept them from wilfulness and extravagance, and tempered them to the spirit of godly fear. But the more ordinary means was one which we may enjoy at this day if we choose--the course of religious services, the round of prayer and praise, which, indeed, was also part of St. Paul’s discipline, as we have seen, and which has a most gracious effect upon the restless and excited mind, giving it an outlet, yet withal calming, soothing, directing, purifying it. Let restless persons attend upon the worship of the Church, which will attune their minds in harmony with Christ’s law, while it unburdens them. Did not St. Paul “pray” during his three days of blindness? Afterwards he was praying in the temple, when Christ appeared to him. Let this be well considered. Is any one desirous of gaining comfort to his soul, of bringing Christ’s presence home to his very heart, and of doing the highest and most glorious things for the whole world? I have told him how to proceed. Let him praise God; let holy David’s psalter be as familiar words in his mouth, his daily service, ever repeated, yet ever new and ever sacred. Let him pray; especially let him intercede. Doubt not the power of faith and prayer to effect all things with God. However you try, you cannot do works to compare with those which faith and prayer accomplish in the name of Christ. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
A spirit religiously cheerful
When the poet Carpani inquired of his friend Haydn how it happened that his church music was always so cheerful, the great composer made a most beautiful reply. “I cannot,” he said, “make it otherwise. I write according to the thoughts I feel; when I think upon God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes dance and leap, as it were, from my pen; and since God has given me a cheerful heart, it will be pardoned me that I serve Him with a cheerful spirit.”
A poor voice for psalm singing
Old Thomas Fuller, who was as noted for his quaintness as for the wisdom of his remarks, had a defective voice; but he did not refuse to praise on this account. “Lord,” he said, “my voice by nature is harsh and untunable, and it is vain to lavish any art to better it. Can my singing of psalms be pleasing to Thine ears, which is unpleasant to my own? Yet, though I cannot chant with the nightingale, or chirp with the blackbird, I had rather chatter with the swallow than be altogether silent. Now what my music wants in sweetness, let it have in sense. Yea, Lord, create in me a new heart, therein to make melody, and I will be contented with my old voice, until in due time, being admitted into the choir of heaven, I shall have another voice more harmonious bestowed upon me.” So let it be with us. Let us ever sing in the same spirit and in the same joy and hope.
Greek. εὐθυμεῖ--is he right set, well hung on, as we say? All true mirth is from the rectitude of the mind, from a right frame of soul that sets and shows itself in a cheerful countenance. (J. Trapp.)
Is any sick among you?
let him call for the elders
The elders of the Church, the anointing Of the sick, and extreme unction
I. The first thing to be noted in connection with this sending for the elders of the congregation by the sick man is, that in this Epistle, which is one of the very earliest among the Christian writings which have come down to us, we already find a DISTINCTION MADE BETWEEN CLERGY AND LAITY. St. James assumes as a matter of course, that every congregation has elders, that is a constituted ecclesiastical government. What the precise functions of the clergy were is not told us with much detail or precision; but it is quite clear that whatever the functions were they were spiritual rather than secular, and were duties which a select minority had to exercise in reference to the rest; they were not such as any one might exercise towards any one. In the present ease the sick person is not to send for any members of the congregation, but for certain who hold a definite, and apparently an official position. If any Christians could discharge the function in question, St. James would not have given the sick person the trouble of summoning the elders rather than those people who chanced to be near at hand. And it is quite clear that not all Christians are over all other Christians in the Lord; that not all are to rule, and all to obey and submit; therefore not all have the same authority to “admonish” others, or to “watch in behalf of their souls, as they that shall give account.” The reason why the elders are to be summoned is stated in different ways by different writers, but with a large amount of substantial agreement. “As being those in whom the power and grace of the Holy Spirit more particularly appeared,” says Calvin. “Because when they pray it is not much less than if the whole Church prayed,” says Bengel. St. James, says Neander, “regards the presbyters in the light of organs of the Church, acting in its name”; and, “As the presbyters acted in the name of the whole Church, and each one as a member of the body felt that he needed its sympathy and intercession, and might count upon it; individuals should therefore, in cases of sickness, send for the presbyters of the Church. These were to offer prayer on their behalf.” The intercession which St. James recommends, says Stier, is “intercession for the sick on the part of the representatives of the Church,… not merely the intercession of friends or brethren as such, but in the name of the whole community, one of whose members is suffering.”
II. The second point of interest is THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK PERSON BY THE ELDERS. What purpose was the oil intended to serve? Was it purely symbolical? and if so, of what? Was it merely for the refreshment of the sick person, giving relief to parched skin and stiffened limbs? Was it medicinal, with a view to a permanent cure by natural means? Was it the channel or instrument of a supernatural cure? Was it an aid to the sick person’s faith? One or both of the last two suggestions may be accepted as the most probable solution. And the reason why oil was selected as a channel of Divine power and an aid to faith was, that it was believed to have healing properties. It is easier to believe when visible means are used than when nothing is visible, and it is still easier to believe when the visible means appear to be likely to contribute to the desired effect. Christ twice used spittle in curing blindness, probably because spittle was believed to be beneficial to the eyesight. And that oil was supposed to be efficacious as medicine is plain from numerous passages both in and outside of Holy Scripture (Isaiah 1:6; Luke 10:34). A mixture of oil and wine was used for the malady which attacked the army of AElius Gallus, and was applied both externally and internally. His physicians caused Herod the Great to be bathed in a vessel full of oil when he was supposed to be at death’s door. Celsus recommends rubbing with oil in the case of fevers and some other ailments. But it is obvious that St. James does not recommend the oil merely as medicine, for he does not say that the oil shall cure the sick person, nor yet that the oil with prayer shall do so; but that “the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick,” without mentioning the oil at all. On the other hand, he says that the anointing is to be done by the elders “in the name of the Lord.” If the anointing were merely medicinal, it might have been performed by any one, without waiting for the elders. And it can hardly be supposed that oil was believed to be a remedy for all diseases. On the other hand, it seems to be too much to say that the anointing had nothing to do with bodily healing at all, and was simply a means of grace for the sick. Thus Dollinger says, “This is no gift of healing, for that was not confined to the presbyters; and for that Christ prescribed not unction, but laying on of hands. Had he meant that, St. James would have bidden or advised the sick to send for one who possessed this gift, whether presbyter or layman … What was to be conveyed by this medium was, therefore, only sometimes recovery or relief, always consolation, revival of confidence and forgiveness of sins, on condition, of course, of faith and repentance.” But although the gift of healing was not confined to the elders, yet in certain cases they may have exercised it; and although Christ prescribed the laying on of hands (Mark 16:18), yet the apostles sometimes healed by anointing with oil (Mark 6:13). And that “shall save him that is sick,” means “shall cure him, is clear both from the context, and also from the use of the same word elsewhere (Mt Mark 5:23; John 11:12). And “the Lord shall raise him up” makes this interpretation still more certain. The same expression is used of Simon’s wife’s mother (Mark 1:31). That St. James makes the promise of recovery without any restriction may at first sight appear to be surprising; but in this he is only following the example of our Lord, who makes similar promises, and leaves it to the thought and experience of Christians to find out the limitations to them. St. James is only applying to a particular case what Christ promised in general terms (Mark 11:24; Matthew 17:20; John 14:14; John 16:23). The words “in My Name” point to the limitation; they do not, of course, refer to the use of the formula “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” but to the exercise of the spirit of Christ: “Not My will, but Thine be done.” The union of our will with the will of God is the very first condition of successful prayer. The apostles themselves had no indiscriminate power of healing (Philippians 2:27; 2 Timothy 4:20; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). How, then, can we suppose that St. James credited the elders of every congregation with an unrestricted power of healing? He leaves it to the common sense and Christian submission of his readers to understand that the elders have no power to cancel the sentence of death pronounced on the whole human race. To pray that any one should be exempt from this sentence would be not faith, but presumption. Of the employment of the rite here prescribed by St. James we have very little evidence in the early ages of the Church. Tertullian mentions a cure by anointing, but it is not quite a case in point. The Emperor Septimius Severus believed that he had been cured from an illness through oil administered by a Christian named Proculus Torpacion, steward of Evodias, and in gratitude for it he maintained him in the palace for the rest of his life. Origen quotes the passage from St. James, and seems to understand the sickness to be that of sin. He interpolates thus: “Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them lay their hands on him, anointing him with oil,” &c. This perhaps tells us how the rite was administered in Alexandria in his time; or it may mean that Origen understood the “pray over him” of St. James to signify imposition of hands. With him, then, the forgiveness of sins is the healing. A century and a half later Chrysostom takes a further step, and employs the passage to show that priests have the power of absolution. “For not only at the time when they regenerate us, but afterwards also, they have authority to forgive sins.” And then he quotes James 5:14-15. It is evident that this is quite alien to the passage. The sickness and the sins are plainly distinguished by St. James, and nothing is said about absolution by the elders, who pray for his recovery, and (no doubt) for his forgiveness. When we reach the sixth century the evidence for the custom of anointing the sick with holy oil becomes abundant. At first any one with a reputation for sanctity might bless the oil--not only laymen, but women. But in the West the rule gradually spread from Rome that the sacred oil for the sick must be “made” by the bishop. In the East this has never been observed. Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, says that according to the Greeks it is lawful for presbyters to make the chrism for the sick. And this rule continues to this day. One priest suffices; but it is desirable to get seven, if possible. But the chief step in the development is taken when not only the blessing of the oil, but the administering of it to the Kick, is reserved to the clergy. In Bede’s time this restriction was not yet made, as is clear from his comments on the passage, although even then it was customary for priests to administer the unction. But by the tenth century this restriction had probably become general. It became connected with the communion of the sick, which of course required a priest, and then with the Viaticum, or communion of the dying; but even then the unction seems to have preceded the last communion. The name “Extreme Unction” (unctio extrema)
, as a technical ecclesiastical term, is not older than the twelfth century. Other terms are “Last Oil” (ultimum oleum)
and “Sacrament of the Departing” (sacramentum exeuntium)
. But when we have reached these phrases we are very far indeed from the ordinance prescribed by St. James, and from that which was practised by the apostles. “And if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him.” We ought perhaps rather to translate, “Even if he have committed sinsit shall be forgiven him.” The meaning would seem to be, “even if his sickness has been produced by his sins, his sin shall be forgiven, and his sickness cured.” It is possible, but unnatural, to join the first clause of this sentence with the preceding one: “the Lord shall raise him up, even if he have committed sins.” In that case “It shall be forgiven him” forms a very awkward independent sentence, without conjunction. The ordinary arrangement of the clauses is much better: even if the malady is the effect of the man’s own wrong-doing, the prayer offered by faith--his faith, and that of the elders--shall still prevail. (A. Plummer, D. D.)
The sick sending for the elder’s of the Church
1. From the supposition, “Is any among you sick?” The note is obvious. Christ’s worshippers are not exempted from sickness, no more than any other affliction. Those that are dear to God have their share of miseries. Austin asketh, If he were beloved, how came he to be sick? In the outward accidents of life God would make no difference.
2. From that “let him call for the elders.” Note that the chief care of a sick man should be for his soul. Physicians are to be called in their place, but not first, not chiefly. Sickness is God’s messenger to call us to meet with God.
3. From that “let him call.” The elders must be sent for. A man that hath continued in opposition is loath to submit at the last hour and to call the elders to his spiritual assistance. Aquinas saith that this last office must not be performed but to those that require it. Possidonius, in the life of Austin, saith that Austin was wont of his own accord to visit the poor, the fatherless, and the widow, but the sick never till he was called. It is indeed suitable to true religion to “visit the fatherless,” (James 1:27); but thesick must call for the elders.
4. From that “the elders.” For our comfort in sickness it is good to call in the help of the guides and officers of the Church. They, excelling in gifts, are best able to instruct and pray. They can with authority, and in a way of office, comfort and instruct; the prayers of prophets have a special efficacy.
5. Again from that “the elders.” Visiting of the sick should be performed with the joint care of Church officers; it is a weighty work, and needeth many shoulders; the diversity of gifts for prayer and discourse seemeth to call for it; it is the last office we can perform to those of whom the Lord hath made us overseers.
6. From that “let them pray.” One necessary work in visiting is commending sick persons to God, and this prayer must be made by them, or over them, that their sight may the more work upon us, and our prayers may work upon them.
7. From that “and anoint him with oil.” From this clause observe the condescension of God. The first preachers of the gospel of Christ had power to do miracles: the doctrine itself, being so rational and satisfactory, deserved belief; but God would give a visible confirmation, the better to encourage our faith.
8. From that “anoint with oil” in order to cure, note that the miracles done in Christ’s name were wrought by power, but ended in mercy. In the very confirmation of the gospel God would show the benefit of it.
9. From that “in the name of the Lord.” All the miracles that were wrought were to be wrought in Christ’s name. The apostles and primitive Christians, though they had such an excellent trust, did not abuse it to serve their own name and interests, but Christ’s; teaching us that we should exercise all our gifts and abilities by Christ’s power to Christ’s glory Psalms 51:16). (T. Manton.)
Let them pray over him
Praying for the sick
When we remember what prayer is, we cannot possibly deny its prevailing power.
I. WE SHOULD ALWAYS BE HUMBLE IN OUR PRAYERS. The Times, in mentioning petitions which had been presented to the House of Lords, remarked of one, that it was rejected on the ground of an omission--after all, but a simple one--the word “humble” was left out. Doubtless, many a petition is rejected by a higher tribunal for lack of humility in the hearts of those who presented it. “Of all trees,” says Owen Feltham, “I observe God hath chosen the vine, a low plant that creeps upon the helpful wall; of all beasts, the soft and patient lamb; of all fowls, the mild and guileless dove. When God appeared to Moses, it was not in the lofty cedar, nor the sturdy oak, but in a bush, a slender, lowly shrub: as if He would, by these elections, check the conceited arrogance of man.”
II. IMPORTUNATE EARNESTNESS is another characteristic of successful prayer. A clergyman who had been preaching to the young, closed with an appeal to parents, in these words: About two-and-twenty years ago, a small circle had gathered around the couch of an apparently dying infant; the man of God, who led their devotions, seemed to forget the sickness of the child in his prayer for his future usefulness. He prayed for the child, who had been consecrated to God at his birth, as a man, and a minister of the Word. The parents laid hold of the horns , f the altar, and prayed with him. The child recovered, grew toward manhood, and ran far in the ways of folly and sin. One after another of that little circle were called sway; but two, and one of them the mother, lived to hear him proclaim the everlasting gospel. “It is no fiction,” added the minister; “that child, that prodigal youth, that preacher, is he who now addresses you!”
III. The prayers of the Church, when making special supplications for the sick, ALWAYS LEAVE IT TO THE WISDOM OF OUR HEAVENLY FATHER TO DETERMINE WHETHER RESTORATION TO HEALTH OR PREPARATION FOR A PEACEFUL DEATH SHALL BE BEST, and we beseech Him to grant the petition accordingly. Nothing could be more proper than this spirit of childlike submission. A father, once praying by the sick-bed of an only son, gave utterance to the rebellious petition, “Let him become what he will; so he may live, I shall be satisfied.” Years and years passed by; the child had been spared, grew up to manhood, passed through a course of crime too awful to be dwelt upon, and was tried, and condemned to die. As he went forth from the prison to the gallows, he said to his old, heartbroken father, with a careless air, “Will you see me to the tree?” What a lesson to those who, while beseeching the Lord for the removal of some bitter cup, have not learned to add in the Saviour’s submissive words, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt!” (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
Prayer extending life
More than half a century since, Rev. T. Charles, of Bala, was evidently near death, when a prayermeeting of his friends was held, in which earnest prayer was offered by an aged Christian for his recovery; especially asking that fifteen years might be added to the useful life of his servant. The prayer was exactly answered. Mr. Charles filled up the fifteen added years in great usefulness and in full expectation of release at its end. On his last visit to some friends, he said that he could not expect to see them again, as he was now in the last year of his life. Strange as it may seem, his death occurred just at the termination of the fifteen years. (New Cyclopedia of Illustrations.)
Prayer saving the sick
There are cases on record in medical history, in which the perfect peace of a soul entirely prepared for either alternative has actually arrested the march of disease, and made the patient literally out of weakness strong. There are eases on record in which it has been said by the physician to the sufferer, desirous to depart and to be with Christ: “Sir, in this state of joyous anticipation you cannot die.” There are oases on record in which, according to promise, “the prayer of faith has saved the sick”; no other force even suggested as adequate to account for the victory of life over death, when physicians had withdrawn themselves from further effort, and could but watch inactive beside the bed of suffering. (C. J.Vaughan, D. D.)
Prayer for the sick
When one of his relatives was recovering from a dangerous illness, Bengel said: “I did not regard outward appearances, unfavourable as they were. I prayed, and hoped for a favourable answer and it has been given. I said nothing about it to any one at the time, but it came to me as a positive assurance that God will hear prayer.” (Bengel’s Life.)
Anointing him with oil
Anointing the sick
I. EXAMINE THE PASSAGE. Epistle of James. The first epistle written. Point, the activity of faith. It must do something. Such active faith covers the whole life. This passage is found among practical directions. Affliction. Merry. Sick. Every natural and simple explanation has been given to this difficult and misused passage. Anointing the body with oil was the sign of health. Those who were sick might not be anointed; nor those passing through a time of mourning. The ancient customs in relation to anointing may be illustrated by our customs in relation to shaving the beard. The sick man will neither trouble himself, nor be troubled, about shaving; but as soon as he begins to recover he will return to his cleanly habits. So the ancients would neglect daily anointing while under sickness, and their return to their old ways was the sign of recovering. When, therefore, James enjoins the elders to anoint the sick man after prayer for his restoration, he really says, “Pray for him in perfect faith, and show that you have such strong faith by acting towards him as if he were restored to health again.” The elders were to “help him rise, wash, and anoint.”
II. THINGS REQUIRING SPECIAL NOTICE. Age of miracles was not then passed.
1. The unconditional character of the promise. Not really without conditions. See the demand for faith, and for acts expressing faith. Rules should be stated without their exceptions. But all rules have such. Compare our Lord’s strong sentences about prayer.
2. The meaning of the anointing with oil. After the prayer. Idea.
(1) Symbolical of medicinal healing. Oil was a curative agent.
(2) Sacramental; a help toward realising the action of Divine grace.
Sight may be a help to the apprehension of spiritual things. Compare our Lord’s touching those whom He healed: or making clay to put on the eyes of the man whose sight He restored. This the true sacramental idea.
3. The sense in which forgiveness is blended with recovery.
(1) Sin regarded as scandal to the Church. Penitent, if sent for elders.
(2) Sin as before God. With this the man himself must deal. All recovery is sign of Divine forgiveness. “Go and sin no more.”
III. REMOVING THE LOCAL AND TEMPORARY, WHAT MAY WE LEARN FROM THE PASSAGE FOR OUR TIMES?
1. The duty of showing sympathy with the sick. Example of Christ. Consider sickness from the Christian point of view. Issue of sin. Divine chastisement. Corrective discipline.
2. The duty of using means for the recovery of sick. Oil a curative agent in those days. So the elders were to use means. Anointing means “rubbing the body,” or the affected parts. Symbol of all healing agents. Show how science now takes the place of miracle.
3. The importance of recognising the power of the “prayer of faith.” This was needed for miracle: much more is it needed for science. What, then, is our duty? To the sick belonging to our Church. Note that the duty rests on the sick to send for the elders, and on the elders to go when sent for. To the sick in general. Provision made for their relief. Support during sickness required. Prayer-power--faith-power--still more needed, if the spiritual ends, for which all sickness is sent, are to be reached. (The Weekly Pulpit.)
Confess your faults one to another
Confessing of faults
These words imply, in the first place, that our religious life is not an isolated thing between each man and God, with which no other man has anything to do.
All Christians are members of a body. If they come much in contact they are nearly related members. And no one has a right to fancy that his faults concern himself alone, and that no one else has an interest in his being a good man. The text implies further that we may get much help by being open about our faults. The apostle goes on to say, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed.” Prayer is a means by which every one can help his neighbour, and prayer is not the only means, but only one amongst many. Our friends can give us sympathy; can sometimes give us advice; can always give us encouragement; very often a friend’s experience will help out ours, and make us see more clearly than we could do alone that we ought to do. But the chief benefit of being ready to confess faults which our conscience urges us to confess is, that we clear our own minds and strengthen our own wills. In the first place, a concealed fault has a most extraordinary power of infecting the whole character. The sin, while it is concealed, seems to enter into all you think or do. It seems to be a part of yourself. You cannot say, “It is not I that did it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” No, the fact of your concealing it seems to make it peculiarly your own. It is not your fault merely; it is you. And all that comes from you partakes of it. All this is changed the moment you have told it. The act of telling it seems as it were to circumscribe it within its own proper limits. It is wrong; but there is the whole of it clearly in view. It no longer affects the rest of you or of your life. You have not got rid of it by telling of it. But you have got rid of this infection which it formerly carried with it. You have shut it up within itself. You have separated yourself from it, and it from yourself. Again, closely connected with this is the fact that a concealed fault lays a peculiar and very heavy burden on the soul. Over and above the remorse for the fault itself, the shame of having it hid in the heart, and unknown even to dear friends, always makes the hider feel as if he were acting a lie; and he despises himself in the midst of every word of praise that he may win. And, once more, confessing the fault pledges the will to try to prevent a return of it, and no other pledge is equally strong.
The resolution of the man who is hiding within him the memory of wrong is sure to be weak, wavering, fitful. The resolution of the man, whose repentance has been stamped and marked by confession, is clear and strong. However weak he feels, he feels, too, that he knows what he has to do and means to do it. And all this applies particularly to secret faults, which are hidden from all eyes but those of the doers. But much of it applies also to faults which are not hidden; but being known to all who know us intimately, yet are not confessed to be faults. There is a great difference between the repentance which simply endeavours to change, and that which not only endeavours to do so, but openly yet humbly confesses that it means to do so. Two questions remain: To whom you should confess your faults? and how? And both of these questions must be left very much to your own judgment. As a general rule, it may be said that one great duty of intimate friends is to supply each other with that help which Christian sympathy can give. A man has almost always among this friends some one, to whom he would not be utterly unwilling to tell all that lies on his own conscience. There may be some matters that require more experienced advice. There are some confessions which we are bound to make, not for the sake of ourselves and for our own spiritual improvement, but for the sake of justice: thus, for instance, if you have either purposely or unintentionally accused your neighbour falsely, it is to himself that you are bound to make the confession. All these points must be left to your own decision. So, again, it must be left to your own judgment how you will confess a fault. Nothing is more mischievous than to confess it in any such way as to give yourself a pleasure in doing so. (Bp. Temple.)
Besides that to God, we may hold many sorts of confessions necessary before men; as--
1. Some public. And so by the Church in ordinary or extraordinary humiliation (Leviticus 16:21; Nehemiah 9:3). So also to the Church, and that either--
(1) Before entrance and admission, in which they did solemnly disclaim the impurities of their former life, professing to walk suitably to their new engagement for time to come (Matthew 3:6; Acts 19:18). Or--
(2) Upon public scandals after admission, for of secret things the Church judgeth not; but those scandalous acts, being faults against the Church, cannot be remitted by the minister alone; the offence being public, so was the confession and acknowledgment to be made public (2Co 1 Timothy 5:20). Now this was to be done, partly for the sinner’s sake, that he might be brought to the more shame and conviction; and partly because of them without, that the community of the faithful might not be represented as an ulcerous, filthy body, and the Church not be thought a receptacle of sin, but a school of holiness.
2. Private confession to men. And so--
(1) To a wronged neighbour, which is called a turning to him again after offence given (Luke 17:4), and prescribed by our Saviour (Matthew 5:24). God will accept no service or worship at our hands till we have confessed the wrong done to others. So here, confess your faults one to another, it may be referred to injuries. In contentions there are offences on both sides, and every one will stiffly defend his own cause, &c.
(2) To those to whom we have consented in sinning, as in adultery, theft, &c. We must confess and pray for each other (Luke 16:28). It is but a necessary charity to invite them that have shared with us in sin to a fellowship in repentance.
(3) To a godly minister or wise Christian under deep wounds of conscience. It is but folly to hide our sores till they be incurable. When we have disburdened ourselves into the bosom of a godly friend, our conscience findeth a great deal of ease. Certainly they are then more capable to give us advice, and can the better apply the help of their counsel and prayers to our particular case, and are thereby moved to the more pity and commiseration; as beggars, to move the more, will not only represent their general want, but uncover their sores.
(4) When in some special cases God’s glory is concerned; as when some eminent judgment seizeth upon us because of a foregoing provocation, which provocation is sufficiently evidenced to us in gripes of conscience, it is good to make it known for God’s glory (2 Samuel 12:13; Joshua 7:19). So when Divine revenge pursueth us if we are brought to some fearful end and punishment, it is good to be open in acknowledging our sin, that God’s justice may be the more visibly cleared; and hereby God receiveth a great deal of glory, and men a wonderful confirmation and experience of the care and justice of providence. (T. Manton.)
Nothing can be further from that discreet good sense which pervades the New Testament, than to inculcate a habit of tattling about one’s self. There is a reserve in this matter which belongs to true delicacy, and so to wisdom. Yet we are commanded to confess oar faults. We are to admit them when they occur, and when they are charged upon us.
I. THE TERM “FAULT” IN SCRIPTURE IS FREQUENTLY EMPLOYED AS SYNONYMOUS WITH “SIN.” It also has a special sense, and relates to small sins. Faults represent the unconscious imperfections of moral conduct--the ten thousand little sins of daily life which do not argue intentional wrong, and which yet are annoying and mischievous. Faults in this point of view belong to every part of a man’s nature, and to every portion of his conduct--to the tongue, to the hand, to the temper, to the reason, to the conscience, to every affection, and to every sentiment. There is no one part of a man’s nature that is without fault; and no man can carry himself through a single day without faults multitudinous. They are the signs and tokens of men’s universal imperfection. There are two extremes of opinion respecting faults. The one regards them with an excessive, uncharitable emphasis of blame. The other sometimes utterly ignores them, and sometimes ostentatiously undervalues them, as factors of moral results. Either extreme is wrong. Faults are not sins, necessarily, though they breed sins; and yet, they are not harmless. There is great danger in them, and great mischief in them, and great misery in them. They should therefore be studied, outgrown, corrected.
II. LET US CONSIDER THE EFFECTS, UPON HUMAN LIFE AND CHARACTER, OF FAULTS--not of grave mistakes; not of great sins of the strong arm and nimble foot; but those ten thousand little things that men do which are not just right, which they themselves could wish they had not done, and which everybody else could wish they had not done, but which are passed by, and of which it is said, “These are their weaknesses.” We say, by way of excusing them, “We all have our faults.” And so we brush them away. There is a right charity on this subject; but it is wiser for each of us to take heed of our faults. For--
1. Faults are often stepping-stones to heinous sins. They go before and prepare the way. They tend to dull moral sensibility. This is especially true of faults in the direction of the moral sentiments. A very slight carelessness in truth-telling will lead by and by to the gravest temptations towards falsehood. Small faults are baits and roles to draw men up to greater ones, so that their mischief is not measured by their own diameter, but by that which they lead to. There is a little gipsy girl in the old castle, and some one says to the lord, “You have an enemy there.” “What! that little gipsy girl?” says the lord, “what can she do? Here am I with my armed men; and every gate and door and window is bolted and barred. I guess she cannot take the castle.” No, she cannot take it; but at dead of the night she can go and draw back some bolt, and let men in that can take it.
2. Faults unwatched tend to run together, and so to become far more potent than they are in detail. A little sharpness in a person’s voice occasionally is not unpleasant. A little spirit is necessary. It is of the nature of spice. Life without anything in it, you know, is dough; and therefore a little temper--just a little spice--raises the dough, and makes bread of it. But a little more temper, and a little more, and a little more, and you are a shrew and a scold. The result is of great moment, but it is made up of the sum of little things, each one of which is apparently of not much importance.
3. Faults also prevent true growth in life. There is a great difference, of course, between faults that prevent growth, and those that do not. There are many that do not seem to do it; but there are some that do it. You may give a tree a good soil, and a good summer; and if that tree is a little sluggish, and it falls behind a little, it will be attacked by moss, which is a parasitic plant which draws its nourishment partly from the tree, and partly from the air; and it will very likely be attacked by a fly which is another kind of parasite that feeds upon the leaf. Each particular speck of moss, each particular fungus, that hangs itself upon the tree, amounts to very little. One apple-tree is ten million times bigger than one of those little plants that feed on it; but each one of these epiphytes shoots its little roots into the tree; and being multiplied by millions, they suck out the sap, and diminish the vigour of the tree, and prevent its growth. There are thousands of little faults that multiply on men, and act in the same way. The men become bark-bound, and leaf-blighted, and cease to have moral growth.
4. Faults, again, propagate themselves silently and secretly, and very dangerously; and they do mischief far from the point at which they start, and do mischiefs, too, that apparently are quite beyond their own nature. A picture may be spoiled by being torn, or slashed; a bomb or ball may burst through the canvas and destroy it; but then, a picture in a neglected convent may be steamed by the range, and smoked by the chimney, and dimmed by the gathering dust of ages, and be put out by these silent incrustations of time as effectually as if it were taken out of the frame and burned. And as it is in art, so it is in character. You can overlay beauty, you can mar perfectness of quality and faculty, by little faults. And the displeasure is greater, frequently, when the thing is marred, than when it is destroyed. A man has a large emerald, but it is “feathered,” and he knows an expert would say, “What a pity that it has such a feather!” it will not bring a quarter as much as it otherwise would; and he cannot take any satisfaction in it. A man has a diamond; but there is a flaw in it, and it is not the diamond that he wants. A man has an opal, but it is imperfect, and he is dissatisfied with it. An opal is covered with little seams, but they must be the right kind of seams. If it has a crack running clear across, it is marred, no matter how large it is, and no matter how wonderful its reflections are. And this man is worried all the time because he knows his opal is imperfect; and it would worry him even if he knew that nobody else noticed it. So it is in respect to dispositions, and in respect to character at large. Little cracks, little flaws, little featherings in them, take away their exquisiteness and beauty, and take away that fine finish which makes moral art. How many noble men there are who are diminished, who are almost wasted, in their moral influence 1 How many men are like the red maple I It is one of the most gorgeous trees, both in spring, blossoming, and in autumn, with its crimson foliage. But it stands knee-deep in swamp-water, usually. To get it, you must wade, or leap from bog to bog, tearing your raiment, and soiling yourself. I see a great many noble men, but they stand in a swamp of faults. They bear fruit that you fain would pluck, but there are briars and thistles and thorns all about it; and to get it you must wade your way through all these hindrances.
5. Faults are great wasters of happiness. They are the source of frets. They mar our peace. They keep up petty discords. They are so small as to elude the grasp. They are like a piano that has been standing all summer in an empty house without being tuned. Some of the notes are too low, and some too high; and they are all of them just a little out of tune. The instrument is good and sound, and pretty nearly chorded; but it is not quite in tune. And the not quite takes away all comfort from the musician who sits down to it. He plays, it may be, through the middle range without much discomfort; but when he strikes a note in the upper range, it makes him cringe. And so it is with happiness. Happiness is harmony. It requires the faculties to be harmonious all the way through. Violent excitement is seldom a source of great happiness. It gives joy for the moment, but it is not often the source of what we call true happiness. That comes from a lower range of action.
6. Faults are also dangerous, in their own way, because they have insect fecundity. They art apt to swarm. And though a few of them may not do much harm, when men come to have a great many of them they will avail as much as if they were actual transgressions. It is not necessary that there should be wolves, and lions, and bears in the woods to drive hunters out of them. Black flies, or mosquitos, or gnats, will drive them out, if there are enough of them. These little winged points of creation make up what they lack in individual strength by their enormous multitude.
III. WE ARE COMMANDED, THEN, TO CONFESS OUR FAULTS. TO whom? The priest? Yes. If any man knows a priest who is a good man, and is willing to listen to him and give him good advice, there is no earthly reason why he may not go to him, as a sensible man who has a heart of sympathy, and a desire to help his fellow creatures. But that is not what is meant, evidently, in the text. “Confess your faults one to another.” Frequently a man will admit his great sins, but not his faults. The apostle says, “You are to own your faults.” If a man says,” You were proud,” say, “Yes, I was proud.” “You ought not to have done that.” “Well, I ought not to have done it.” “You said that through vanity.” “It is true, I did. I was under the influence of vanity, and I sacrificed you through vanity. I confess it. Help me out of it next time.” How wise, then, is James’s command, “Confess your faults one to another.” Nor is that all--“and pray one for another.” If we prayed more we should blame less; we should be far more tolerant; we should not suspect so much; we should not carry stories so much; we should not do wrong so much. For, there is nothing that makes a man so charitable as that which he has himself suffered. An old veteran, who has gone through a hundred battles, and is as firm as a rock in the midst of dangers, has a young officer under his command, who in his first action quivers with fear, and trembles like an aspen leaf. If this superior officer had never seen any service, he would scoff at the young man, and laugh him to scorn; but instead of that, the true man and veteran comes up to the frightened soldier, and says, “My young man, keep cool. You are doing well. I was as scared as you are when I first went into action; but I got over it, and you will get over it.” What balm! what magnanimity! There is nothing like the sympathy which is created by our own experience. By confessing our faults one to another, and praying for one another, we learn humility on the one side, and on the other side that large charity which covers transgression and hides a multitude of sins. Finally, while we are striving to bear our own burdens, and to sustain the faults and shortcomings of our fellow-men, let us remember every day what Christ is obliged to bear in and for us. (H. W. Beecher.)
Confession of faults
The case before us supposes a Christian who is sick, and who has committed no great crime, no crying sin, but a fault towards his brother. He is the man whose case was mentioned in the preceding verses. His faults had brought him to his bed, his sickness had brought him to penitence; he desires to be forgiven and healed. He sends for the Church officials, who use first the physical agents of remedy, and then engage in prayer. Now, says the apostle, “Send for your brother, against whom you have committed a fault. Confess your fault to him; perhaps that will bring him to perceive that he has had faults towards you. “When you have prayed together, you for him and he for you, and have come to be loving friends again, then all may go right, and the peace of your mind will advance the recovery of your body, and so you may be healed.” In this whole matter of confession it is important to guard against morbid feeling and mistaken action. Where another is concerned, and such a sin is committed that the acknowledgment to him or to the world would put him in no better position than he is now, why should there be any confession made? Confession to other than the offended party, or even to the injured party, may itself become injurious to a wide circle. The confession should not be made to a third party, but only to the party involved in the difficulty. That confession should always be made in a truly devout spirit; in a spirit consistent with acts of prayer. It must not be done perfunctorily, merely to get through a duty, but must come from the heart, just as prayer must come from the heart; and must leave the confessor in that state of mind which prepares him to go to the Heavenly Father and invoke all blessings upon the brother whom he has offended. And this points us to the ethical lesson on the other side, which is often overlooked. When my brother is convinced that he has committed a fault against me, and being sick and unable to visit me, sends for me and begins to make confession, I must not draw myself up haughtily and tell him I am glad he has come to his senses at length. I must listen very patiently and humbly t,, his confession, examining my own heart to see whether there might not have been something in my conduct to betray my brother into his fault, and whether, also, I may not have resented his fault as to be betrayed by indignation into a fault on my own part. I must listen with the greatest gladness, seeing that he has been brought by the Spirit of God to such a state; and I must earnestly desire to be in as proper a moral position toward him. If all this be done, then immediately after confession will follow forgiveness and prayer. He that had done the wrong and he that had received it will pray each for the other, and there will be real, unaffected love; and a state of love amongst all Christians is that which every man who loves our Lord Christ does most intensely long for. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)
A very learned man once said,” The three hardest words in the English language are, ‘I was mistaken!’” Frederick the Great once wrote to the Senate: “I have lost a great battle, and it was entirely my own fault.” Goldsmith says, “This confession displayed more greatness than all his victories.” Do not be afraid to acknowledge your mistakes, else you will never correct them; and you are really showing how much wiser you are than when you went astray.
Pray one for another
It is very hard to understand how prayer does good to the person that offers it. It is quite impossible to give any satisfactory explanation of the truth, though we hold it as we hold our lives, that prayer is heard and answered, and all this without a constant miracle. That is hard to understand, though we are quite sure it is all perfectly true. But it is a much more mysterious thing--and in some points of view it is a very awful thing--to think that prayer for others may truly affect their state, both here and hereafter. Now perhaps the best way of bringing our minds in some measure to understand all this, is to set it before us, that all this is no more wonderful than certain other arrangements in God’s Providence. It is just as hard to explain why your eternal destiny may be affected by another person’s conduct, as by his prayers. Yet we know it is. But still, it is all very strange. And so, if you would ask a good man to do you a good turn, you can never do so better than by asking him to pray for you. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” We all need to feel this more than we do. No doubt there are few requests and few promises ever made with so little sense of what is meant by them as that to pray for another. A person will say that his prayer is that such a friend may be happy; while in fact he never really went to God’s footstool with such a prayer at all. And it may be said, in a single sentence, that intercessory prayer for others is sometimes characterised by what is even worse than unreality. Sometimes the most ill-set and malignant thing that one man can do towards another is to pray for him, or to threaten to pray for him. Oh, let there never be admitted to our minds the faintest idea of hitting at somebody in prayer! Let intercessory prayer always be offered in love. And though the humblest and poorest, there is no saying the good you may do--do to your children, do to your friends, do to those who preach the gospel to you, do to the whole Church of God, by your earnest and persevering prayers. Not much need be said as to the way in which we ought to pray fur those we love. We pray for them as we pray for ourselves. We ask God to give them the same things we ask for ourselves. We ask for guidance through this present life, and for glory afterward, through the precious sacrifice of Christ, and the precious influences of the Holy Spirit: and we ask, as the occasion arises, for all the multitude of separate blessings which are included under these. And as the occasion arises, too, we should do all we can to bring about the things for which we pray. You know the great familiar rule for every Christian’s work and prayer: it is to pray as earnestly as if we could do nothing by ourselves; and at the same time to work as hard as if we could do everything by ourselves. It has been well said, that if you want God to hear your prayers for others you must hear them yourselves. It is as mere a mockery to pray that those you love may be brought to Christ, and at last to heaven, while yet you never move a finger to bring them, as it would be for a man to sit down idly amid his heaps of quarried stones and pray that his house may be built, while yet he never moves a hand to build it. And yet, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it”; they are but the two aspects of one great truth. And indeed, it is only in regard to spiritual things that you will find people so forgetful that pains must go with prayers. You do not pray that your little boy may be a good Greek scholar, and yet never teach him Greek. You do not pray that your friend may not fall into a pit hard by on his way on a dark night, and yet never warn him that the pit is there. Now, just act on these plain rules of sound sense, as regards the most important things of all. You may indeed pray for those for whom you can do nothing else; but there are those for whom you ought to pray, for whom you may do much more. Pray for your children, and try to train them in the right way. Pray for your friends, and never miss the chance of doing them a good turn, for this life or the next. Pray for the heathen, and help the agencies for their conversion. Pray for the sorrowful, and never lose the opportunity of comforting a sad heart, and a kind word may go far here, or even the hearty sympathy, felt though unexpressed. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
I. THE PRINCIPLES OF THE TEXT.
1. Prayer should be united and mutual; with each other and for each other. The secret root of piety is to be watered in private; but then this will prompt us to social efforts. To prevent selfishness we should pray with others, and learn to say “our Father.” It has a happy effect on men to hear themselves prayed for, and may set them to pray for themselves. It promotes mutual love and sympathy to pray to ether. It also heightens the flame of our devotedness and zeal. It often corrects and regulates our prayers, which in privacy might grow erratic or careless. It is due to the interests of Christ’s Church that we should unite in prayer.
2. Mutual prayer demands mutual confidence and love. Quarrelling and fault-finding separate us from one another. First, we should confess our faults one to another, with real sorrow for them and determination not to repeat them. Then we should forgive each other freely, and from our hearts. Not to forgive hinders prayer (Mark 11:25). To this must be added zealous interest in each other’s spiritual good, not cold and haughty distance and mutual estrangement ever after.
3. True prayer must be righteous. We must seek righteous ends. We must be influenced by righteous motives. We must seek right things.
4. Our prayer must be earnest. The words “effectual fervent” are one in the original, where the term denotes labouring, energetic, agonising prayer; prayer in the spirit; prayer with our whole heart and strength, and under the impulse and guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.
II. THE ILLUSTRATION (1 Kings 18:41, &c.).
1. Elijah was a righteous man.
2. Yet he was nothing more than a man.
3. He gave himself to prayer to fulfil the purposes of his mission.
4. His prayer was effectual in regard to material things.
5. His prayer at first was for temporal evil.
6. It was for a public benefit.
1. In some cases unite to prayer for temporal good, when it is for God’s glory.
2. Unite to prayer for spiritual blessings; for the deepening of God’s work in your own hearts--for the conversion of friends--for the welfare of the Church you belong to--for a blessing on God’s Word; for a revival of religion at large. (Congregational Pulpit.)
Christianity brought with it a new phenomenon in the spiritual world, if such an expression be permitted, and that phenomenon was the sudden and extraordinary development of intercessory prayer. There was little of this in the old world among Jews or pagans. Prayer was individual; each man asked of God what he felt himself to be in great need of. If in sickness, he asked for health; if in poverty, he entreated for wealth. At the outside, he only prayed for near friends and relatives when in danger of death. The Jew, no doubt, had a nobler and fuller type of prayer, and he supplicated for Israel. His individuality was but an atom in the great bulk of his people, and he did pray God to deliver His people out of adversity, and to strengthen it against its oppressors. It is doubtful whether the heathen had any such practice of prayer for his race and nation. He offered to the genius the empire, but that was but a homage rendered to the jealous divinity who was supposed to watch over the welfare of Rome. The death of Christ, the proclamation of the kingdom, seems to have opened the eyes of all those who received the gospel to the common brotherhood of mankind. With a shock of surprise they saw that all mankind are members of one family, that all are linked together by common interests. This is an age of philanthropy, when there is a real desire to relieve all of their burdens which weigh unjustly, and to redress all wrongs, and where there is not such a real desire, one is simulated, and it becomes a sort of political and social clap-trap--simply because philanthropy is fashionable. But in this bustling, eager age, when we are all trying to rectify abuses and remedy ills, how much is done on the knees? How much of intercessory prayer goes on? We are, in too many eases, endeavouring to better the world without seeking God’s help and God’s guidance. We are not all able to do much to redress the wrongs done in this world; to relieve the darkness, to ease the burdens, to staunch the tears that are shed, because we have not all the means, or the ability, or the opportunities, but we can all pray, and by our prayers may effect far more than can they who, with means, ability, and opportunity go to work in a philanthropic spirit, but without Christian faith and devout prayer. (S. BaringGould, M. A.)
Serjeant William White tells us in his biography of his friend Serjeant William Marjouram that the latter could say, eight years after they first met, when Marjouram led White to the Saviour, that he had not failed one single day to remember him in his prayers.
Mr. Romaine used to spend two hours every Friday in intercession for his friends, having their names written down, and pacing his room in thought and prayer about their particular wants. He used to refer to Friday as his “Litany day.”
Intercessory prayer needed
A true Christian will value the intercession of the humblest believer. So did good Dr. Davenant, Master of Queen’s College, Cambridge. Being appointed to the bishopric of Salisbury, and taking leave of the inmates of the college, he asked an old college servant, John Rolfe, to give him his prayers. The old man naturally replied that he had rather need of those of the bishop. “Yea, John,” replied the latter, “and I need thine too, being now to enter into a calling wherein I shall meet with many and great temptations.”
Value of the intercessions of the good
Hamilton says of the departed McCheyne: “Perhaps the heaviest loss to his brethren, his people and the land, is the loss of his intercessions.” (Sword and Trowel.)
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man
We are often told that no prayer can be effectual in securing the blessing sought unless it is consistent with God’s will to grant it. But the all-important question at once arises. “How can I know what is and what is not consistent with God’s will?” Suppose I have a sick child for whose recovery I am intensely anxious. I am told that if his restoration to health is in harmony with God’s will, I may pray for it in the confident expectation of receiving an answer to my prayer. But how can I know whether or not it is so? Clearly, I cannot know it unless God Himself informs me. What, then, shall I do? Shall I leave the sick one in the hands of God to have the issue of his sickness determined simply and alone by the will of God? This would be to deny the utility of prayer. But though I know not what God’s will concerning my child may be, I am most diligent to use the power of prayer for his recovery, just as I use the power of medicine or of nursing. Is it said that I am to pray with a submissive spirit? Very true; as soon as any occasion for submission appears. But there is neither occasion nor room for it, till I learn that God cannot grant my request. I saw the other day a man attempting to split a rock with a sledgehammer. Down came the sledge upon the stone as if it would crush it, but it merely rebounded, leaving the rock as sound as before. Again the ponderous hammer was swung, and again it came down, but with the same result. Nothing was accomplished. The rock was still without a crack. I might have asked (as so many are disposed to ask concerning prayer) what good could result from such a waste of time and strength. But that man had faith. He believed in the power of that sledge. He believed that repeated blows had a tendency to split that rock. And so he kept at it. Blow after blow came down all apparently in vain. But still he kept on without a thought of discouragement. He believed that a vigorously swung sledge “has great power.” And at last came one more blow and the work was done. That is the way in which we ought to use prayer. God has told us that “the earnest prayer of the righteous man has great power.” We ought to believe it, just as that man believed that his sledge had power. And believing it, we ought to use prayer for the attainment of spiritual results with just such confidence of success as that man used his sledge. But says one, “I don’t know whether the thing for which I am praying is consistent with the will of God.” No matter whether it is or not. That is not a question that there is any need of determining or asking. We don’t know God’s will about any of our plans for the future. But that doesn’t paralyse our efforts or lead us to distrust the efficiency of the means we use for accomplishing those plans. A young man wishes to secure an education. He knows nothing of God’s will in the matter, nor does he hesitate a moment because of his ignorance. He simply knows that God has established certain means to be used for attaining the end desired, and that if he faithfully and perseveringly uses these, he may reasonably hope to succeed. It is true he may fail. It may be God’s will that he should die within a year. Or some one of the many obstacles in his path may prove entirely insurmountable. But he is to take no notice of any such possibilities. He is to commence and prosecute his studies as if he knew that, if industrious and persevering, he would certainly succeed. This is the way to succeed. And this is the only way. Earnestness, perseverance, unflinching resolution, have ten thousand times made not only possible, but actual, what would otherwise have been impossible. It is just so with prayer. We are no more to concern ourselves about God’s will concerning the things for which we pray, than about His will concerning the things for which we toil. We are to recognise and hold fast the fact with both hands, with memory, mind, and heart, that prayer is a means appointed of God for securing spiritual results, as industry and resolution are for achieving results in temporal things. And that is a universal law of God’s government, that the more earnestly and perseveringly we use any means that God has appointed, the more certain are we to attain the end we seek. And believing these things, we are to act accordingly. We are to use prayer with just as much expectation of accomplishing something by it, as we use industry. We are to believe with all the heart that “the earnest prayer of the righteous man has great power.” (Christian Age.)
Inwrought energetic prayer
A person often says to his friend, or to his minister, “Pray for me. You are a good man, and ‘ the fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.’” If that be the meaning of the verse--if “a righteous man” means a good man, who could appropriate it? God says, “There is none righteous; no, not one.” But there was a depth in those words which the centurion said of Christ--which probably he little thought of when he said them, “Truly this was a righteous man!” Observe, “a righteous man”--not by virtue of His Deity, but as man. He became man, and then as a man He fulfilled the whole righteousness of God’s law. That righteousness God accepts as if it were ours. He imputes it to us; He sees us in it; that which that holy, pure eye could never have seen us without--righteousness. Therefore a “righteous man” means a justified man: And here is the comfort: the humblest believer may go and plead the promise, and may go in the simple confidence that Christ has justified him; and though both he and his prayer be utterly vile, still its unworthiness does not destroy its worthiness or destroy its claim--for God hath written it, and He cannot deny it--“The effectual fervent prayer of a justified man availeth much.” But there is another condition: it must be “effectual fervent.” There is some difficulty in arriving at an accurate definition of the meaning of these words--for, in the original, the words are but one; and the first and closest signification is “wrought in”; the wrought-in prayer, “the prayer wrought in the soul of a justified man availeth much.” Therefore the primary idea is that the prayer that “avails much” is a prayer that is wrought into a man’s soul by the Holy Spirit. When you go to pray it may seem to you as if you originated your thoughts. But it is not so. As the flame which bore up the sacrifice from the altar first came down upon the altar from heaven, so the first spring and power of all prayer is from above. Prayer is an inward creation of the Holy Ghost. Let me place this matter in its true arrangement. God, in His sovereign love and His.free mercy, wishes to give you something. Say it is the pardon of your sins. It is a part of His way of doing it that He sends the Holy Ghost to work in your heart a desire after the very thing which He is meaning to give you. So that you do not so much obtain the good because you ask it, as that you asked it because it is God’s mind to give it. The desire, and the prayer that expresses the desire, are the machinery by which God is giving effect to His own preordained plan. Let me offer you one or two suggestions to make more energetic prayer. Much prayer is enfeebled from a want of faith in your own prayers. Fill yourself with appreciations of the power of prayer by carrying in your mind some promise that God has made. Then remember that all prayer--if prayer--must be communion. Prayer alone is not communion. Communion is a double process. It is God speaking to us, and then we speaking to God. That is communion. Therefore listen for voices, and let your prayer be the echo. Throw as much of the Bible as you can into your prayer, because it will be pleasant to God to have His own word brought back to Him. He will give much to His own arguments. Always let there be a little preparation before you kneel down. Tune the mind. Get into a certain atmosphere. Settle your subjects. Give them a little order, not too much, not to make them mechanical, but still with some method. It is a great help in prayer to have determined beforehand a little method. “Take with you words,” is God’s command. When you begin to pray, set before you, and take as the ground of your prayer, some particular attribute of God suited to the subject which you are going to make the special subject of your petition. Deal much with that particular name or title of God. It makes an adequate basis. Have arguments to back your salt; especially that strongest one, “It is for Thy glory.” That is the most important of all things, when we are in prayer, to tell God it is for His own faithfulness and for His own glory; to remind yourself, and remind God, of former answers He has given you in prayer. “Thou hast been my succour.” Whoever would pray to profit must pray praisingly. And then press forward. Pray with a holy, bold resolvedness. And then put the name of Jesus--that grand name of Jesus--clenchingly, commandingly. And when you have done--when you have shot the arrow--wait; follow it with your eye, and look up and see when and where the answer is going to come down. And let me remind you there is one kind of prayer to which the text particularly refers--intercessory. May we never forget it. Do not let us forget it as ministers and people. It is the life, it is the joy, it is the strength of the prayer, when it is held together by intertwining threads of intercessory prayer. (James Vaughan, M. A.)
The prayer of faith
I. THE PRAYER OF FAITH IS CONSISTENT WITH THE UNCHANGEABLENESS OF GOD, WHEN BOTH ARE SCRIPTURALLY DEFINED.
II. IT IS CONSISTENT WITH NATURE AND MIRACLES. God can and will perform what He has promised.
III. THE SCRIPTURAL CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH A MIRACLE MIGHT BE WROUGHT AND THE ANSWER TO PRAYER BELIEVED.
1. There is a plane of prayer which is acceptable, which has true faith, but which is offered in the ordinary conditions of a secular yet pious life, without special stress of emotion or elevation of view.
2. The element of time in prayer is important. In respect to the kingdom we shall not have the harvest with the seed-sowing, but after.
3. There are unlimited possibilities in Christian prayer. The Spirit is given to help our infirmities, when we know not what to ask for. The Church will ask more, receive more, and do more. (R. B. Thurston, D. D.)
Is prayer efficacious?
Has it never happened, when travelling, that you have stopped among the ruins of an old building, and there evoked, by thought, a vanished past? And if the stones which surrounded you were those of a church, have you not experienced a strange emotion in imagining all the generations which had passed through that enclosure, all the prayers which had been heard there. Well! an analogous spectacle in the moral world impresses me. There also we shall meet with ruins which sin heaps up every year, ruins of souls made for a superior life, and degraded by vanity, by selfishness, by lusts But search thoroughly, and, under the thick coating of vice or of indifference, you will find the traces of a sanctuary, you will recognise vestiges which will tell you that those souls ought to belong to God. Of those vestiges I wish to point out only one: it is the instinct of prayer living in the depth of every man’s soul, which is found always and everywhere, which makes the rough face of those poor savages, whose mouth hardly stammers out a human language, to turn towards heaven in their afflictions. How great is that instinct, and how shall we not admire its beauty! Here is a weak, ignorant being, who will pass away, and who unites himself to the all-powerful God, to the Author of all life, of all intelligence; here is a being hitherto selfish and defiled, who returns trembingly to the Author of all love and all holiness; he considers in his soul His sovereign power and goodness, he restores to Him, in acts of thanksgiving, the life he has received from Him. But, while showing what is admirable in that instinct of prayer, how can we help thinking with sorrow of the way in which it has been perverted? What has prayer, almost everywhere, become? An outward act, a religious routine, and nothing more. The spirit has disappeared and the form alone has remained. Is prayer efficacious? What a strange question, you will say, for why should we pray if we believed we were fulfilling a useless act? That is evident; but you must understand us. In a general sense, all will grant that prayer operates; but on whom does it operate? Is it on us simply? Such is the question, First of all, here is a reflection which should occur to you. If prayer can and ought to act only on him who prays, I ask what is the meaning of all the prayers we address to God for others? That remark made, I interrogate the human soul as to that instinctive and universal impulse which induces it to pray. What does it, then, want? To raise itself simply to God, to unite itself to the Source of all good, to calm itself in the contemplation of universal order, to learn to resign itself before inflexible necessity? Ah! who would dare to say so except by denying the reality of things? What! that shipwrecked man who lifts a look of anxious expectation towards God, that mother whose heart is rent at the sight of her child in agony, or that other one who trembles at the thought of the temptations which will destroy her son; do you believe that they do not ask, do you believe that they have not an ardent and profound confidence that they will act on the Divine will, that they will modify the course of things? But you cannot, you dare not, say so, and, behold, you are reduced to maintain that they are all victims of a presumptuous illusion. An illusion! but whence comes that illusion which I find everywhere and always, that illusion which neither education, nor influence, nor example could plant in those depths of the human soul, from whence it comes out at critical hours? Therefore it will be God who must have put it in us; God who must have created in our soul that hunger without nourishment, that thirst without mitigation; God who must have said to His creature, “Thou shall always ask Me, but I will never answer thee.” No, no; I believe in that spontaneous testimony of the soul. God will, God must reply to that desire. Moreover, we are Christians; the best and most sublime things we know respecting God we owe to Jesus Christ. “What idea does Jesus wish to give us of prayer? Is it simply, in His eyes, an exaltation of the soul, a spiritual exercise, and, if there is an idea which is familiar to Him, which comes back each instant to His lips, is it not that prayer is a real request which obtains its reply, that it acts on God, that it can modify events, that its action depends on the intensity of faith? And besides, what Jesus here teaches is that which comes from the whole of Scripture with an evidence that no other explanation will be able to weaken. Recall the sublime scene where Abraham intercedes with God to delay the punishment of Sodom; recall the wrestling of Jacob with the angel, and that name of Israel, which means “a conqueror of God”; then, leaping over centuries, see the Canaanite woman at the feet of Jesus Christ, wresting from Him, by her supplications, her tears, her admirable faith, the cure He seemed at first to refuse her, and tell us if prayer, such as Scripture presents it to us, is not a sovereign act which operates on us first of all, but also, apart from us, on others, on events, on the world, and, to employ the bold paradox of Scripture, even on God Himself. To have both the cry of nature and the Divine word for one’s self, is not that essential, and what more is necessary for Christians? On that ground I place myself, in order to approach the objections by which men seek to shake our faith. You know the first, the oldest objection. They tell us that prayer cannot be efficacious because it would change the laws of nature. Is that true? Well, O reasoner! why then should you act? Why do you take a step, even one? Why do you seek for your nourishment? Why do you sow? Why do yea build? Each of your acts is in the most flagrant contradiction to your system. You cannot modify nature, and every instant you modify it! I know how we shall be answered. It will be said that, when man acts on nature, he does it in an outward, visible manner which every one can appreciate, and that there is no relation between that action and the action claimed for prayer. But that was not the question. It was, you know, to prove that man can modify nature; and we have seen that he can do so. I am told now that it is inconceivable how that action will take place under the influence of prayer. But how many of those hews are there that we could understand and resolve? Do you conceive how the will which is spiritual can act on matter? Do you know how my hand obeys my intellect? Does not mystery surround you here on all hands, and do the most learned penetrate it better than the most simple? There is another objection opposed to us when we affirm that we can, by prayer, modify the course of events and operate on God Himself. Objectors say to us that it is doubting the wisdom and the goodness of God, that it is substituting our action for His, that an inconceivable pride is there, and that the sole attitude which becomes us in respect to Him is the waiting on and submission to His will. Let us remove what is specious from that objection. When we say that a man acts, by his prayer, on God Himself, we babble in the speech of man of things which are beyond us, the Divine will being incapable of yielding to ours, and remaining as the last word and the explanation of all. Having said this, we shall remark that the objection put before us is destroyed, like the preceding, by itself. The wisdom and goodness of God should prevent us from addressing our demands to Him, they tell us; but what would you answer him who, in the name of the same principle, should pretend to condemn the labour of man? We should answer, “Yes, assuredly God wills that I should live, but He wills that I live by labouring, and for that He has placed the instinct for labour in me. Now, if I did not obey that instinct, His will, however good it may be, would not be realised in respect to me. It therefore depends on me, on my labour, that the will of God should be accomplished.” Well! what is true of labour is true of prayer also. Yes, God wills that such an end be attained, that such a result be produced; but there is a condition to it, it is the labour of the soul, in a word, it is prayer. If I do not pray, that Divine will, will never be accomplished. There remains the most popular and oftenest repeated objection; it is that which people pretend to draw from experience. “If prayer were really efficacious,” they say, “if it operated on others, on events, on the world, we should see its effects.” But who are they, then, who pretend thus to judge the results of prayers of faith, and so discern their reality? Do they know if those prayers were true and sincere? Do they know what sentiment dictated them? They are astonished at their small amount of efficacy, but it would be necessary first to know if they could rise to God. What do you think of those selfish or vicious prayers which only interest or passion has inspired? In order to appreciate the visible effect of prayers we must therefore judge what the prayers themselves are worth, and what inspection of man could discern their value? That is what must be first remembered; and now let us view more nearly the objection opposed to us. People show us prayers which remain unanswered, prayers of the most believing, of the most pious, of the most humble redeemed by Jesus Christ, and they tell us it is impossible, in face of such a fact, still to affirm with my text that prayer is efficacious. Well 1 to that argument of experience, experience may reply. I appeal to those who know bow to pray, and who are apparently the best judges in that matter. I appeal to them confidently, and I know that they will testify firmly that prayer is efficacious. Besides, there are visible results of prayer which impress themselves so evidently that none can deny them. When, forty centuries ago, we could have seen, in the plains of Chaldea, the obscure chief of an unknown tribe bending the knee before Jehovah and invoking Him for his son, in the persuasion that all the nations of the earth should be blessed in his name; when, two thousand years later, we could have heard a handful of Galileans Fraying in an upper room in Jerusalem, and imagining that the world would be conquered by the faith of which they were witnesses, we might have been tempted to smile before the prayer of Abraham and before that of the first disciples of Christ. Who to-day would dare to say they were deceived? To-day the third of humanity beholds in Abraham the father of believers, and the prayer of the apostles is repeated by the Church growing in all points of the universe. (E. Bersier, D. D.)
I. THAT PRAYER MAY PREVAIL WITH GOD. This fact is more doubted than denied. Let us, then, notice, that all our objections to a full belief in the efficacy of prayer arise from a greater confidence in our own unaided reasonings, and certain intuitive convictions, than in the testimony of God. In this connection, therefore, I would remind you of one or two facts, which tend to modify an extravagant confidence in our reason. One is this: The Author of nature has not consulted human wisdom in the arrangement of even material causes. We know that fire consumes wood. But how do we come to know it? By reasoning beforehand how it ought to be? No; there is not a single law of matter or mind that man has found out by anticipation. But again: The Author of nature has contradicted the wisdom of man in the constitution of the universe. I mean by the wisdom of man, his mere logic, independent of his observation, and those impressions or perceptions to which men yield such firm credence, even in opposition to the Scriptures. For more than five thousand years from the creation of the world, the wisest men were continually making the most egregious blunders in describing the processes of nature. But when Lord Bacon at length arose to disenthral the human mind, he showed that, except in the department of abstract truth, as mathematics and metaphysics, they must look outward; that evidence, not intuition, must guide them. Conjectures concerning the Creator’s plans and modes of action were useless; and, if confided in, injurious. If, then, men have reasoned so short of the truth, in regard to material causes, why should we trust our reason against the testimony of God in the higher departments of truth? These general considerations we adduce before making a more particular examination of the objections which human reason presents to the efficacy of prayer. It is perfectly manifest that there is no solid, rational ground for denying or doubting the efficacy of prayer, because the whole subject lies beyond the sphere of intuitive or abstract reasoning. Yet there are objections which these general views are not sufficient to remove. One may be thus stated: “We are conscious of an immeasurable disparity between the Infinite mind and our limited understandings. We cannot teach Him anything. Is it not, then, a loss of time, and a vain ceremony, to make such addresses to the Deity?” This is the strongest form I can give the objection. Now, there are at least three distinct grounds upon which its entire futility can be shown: the very nature of communion; the relations and feelings of a teacher; and those of a parent. If there be a possibility of such a thing as communion between God and His creatures, then that communion must be the interchange of thoughts and feelings. So that, unless it can be shown that the Creator is for ever to be cut off from all intellectual and social communion with all His creatures (for the objection as really lies against His communion with angels and archangels), then our intellectual disparity is not a good and sufficient reason why we should not pray. Moreover, we can learn from the feelings of a teacher who takes a deep interest in the communication of his pupil, how God can be pleased to hear our prayers. It is not so much that the pupil imparts any information, or that his notions are all correct; but it is because he is making progress, and because this is the way in which he is to be developed. Our Heavenly Father may see that by no exercise we perform do we make such progress in all spiritual attainments as by fervent, energised prayer. And then, again, the parental feelings explain much. In the nursery, words are not weighed with the balance of the schools. A kindred difficulty to this is, that “there is such majesty and grandeur in the King of heaven that we are too mean to approach Him.” It may suffice now to say, in reference to this embarrassment, that it can be turned into an encouragement by applying to it one passage of the Word: “If I be a Father, where is My honour; and if I be a Master, where is My fear?” The legitimate consequence of His majesty and authority and glory is to exact homage, adoration, and praise. There is one blessed line of Scripture worth infinitely more than all the deductions of an earthborn wisdom: the High and Mighty One declares, “Whoso offereth praise, glorifieth Me.” Another doubt arises from the Divine goodness, about which we sometimes reason thus: “If God is infinitely kind, and disposed to promote our welfare, then He will not withhold any blessing, simply because we do not ask for it, or ask without sufficient fervour; nor would He more bestow it for our asking.” Now, upon all this logic we ask two questions: Is it so in fact? and ought it to be so of right? As to the matter of fact, we may make our experiment in any department of life. Man needs, for example, an abundant supply of the fruits of the earth. Let him, then, apply this short-hand inference from God’s goodness to this case. God is kind, and disposed to bestow every good thing on all His creatures; therefore He will not withhold any needful quantity of Indian corn and wheat and vegetables, simply because we do not perform this or that agricultural operation, nor is it reasonable to think He will the more bestow it for our labours. Does Omnipotent Goodness require the aid of ploughs and harrows to feed His children? Here we see the reasons to be entirely contradictory to facts; for we know that it holds true in regard to every department of life, “the hand of the diligent maketh rich, but the sluggard cometh to want.” And there can be no reason, derived from the kindness of God, to show that it is not as true of praying as of ploughing. And as we can see how the welfare of man and of society is promoted by the arrangement which creates a necessity for labour, and how this arrangement is a fruit of the Divine goodness in all the arts and employments of life, so we can see how the goodness of God may have made prayer a necessary means of procuring many indispensable blessings, on account of its direct benefit to us. Nothing in its place more cultivates the character than fervent, effectual, or energised prayer; and there is, in itself considered, no higher privilege to man than this communing and pleading with the Most High. A fourth difficulty is with the omniscience, foreknowledge, and unchangeableness, of God. The force of the objection is this: “If He has determined from all eternity what He will do, or if He knows everything that we can tell Him, our telling Him cannot change His view, so as to induce Him to change His purpose.” This chilling argument is with many persons very powerful. They might just as well refuse to plant as to pray on this ground. God knows the results in the one case as much as in the other; and your sowing the seed in expectation of a crop is just as inconsistent with His foreknowledge as your praying for rain, or success in business, or the conversion of a soul, in expectation of such result. Let it be borne in mind, that no such view of God’s attributes should ever be held as reduces him to a machine, an automaton, instead of a rational being, thinking, deciding, and acting, in view of facts. A kindred objection to prayer, and almost identical with this, is that “God is acting from fixed laws; prayer for rain can do no good, because rain is the result of specific material causes, which act by regular and purely mechanical forces; not depending upon any present volition of the Creator, but merely upon that original volition which called them into existence.” Now, here it is assumed that no other than material causes or forces can affect matter. This is contradicted by creation, by miracles, and by the moral purposes for which the universe was created. It assumes that God has left no place for His own direct action. It assumes that you know all the causes of events; and that prayer is not one. The holiness and justice of God, too, have discouraged some from praying. This I esteem as really the greatest difficulty on the whole subject; and yet that sceptics never suggest, and the worldly-minded do not feel. The other difficulties exist only in our imaginations; this lies deep in the character of Jehovah, and the principles of His eternal kingdom. This is a difficulty which no reasoning would ever have removed, which no efforts of man could ever have diminished. To meet and remove this, the whole arrangement of the incarnation, death, resurrection, and mediation of Christ was made.
II. PRAYER WILL PREVAIL WITH GOD. Let us turn to--
1. The commands. They are such as these: “Pray without ceasing.” “I will, therefore, that men pray everywhere.” “The end of all things is at hand; be therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” “Seek the Lord while He may be found.” Commands of this nature abound, and are addressed, with the other general precepts of God’s law, to all mankind.
2. Promises to prayer, lavished in prodigal bounty, like the rich fruits of the earth, springing up through all these glorious fields of revealed truth and grace. “Ask, and it shall be given you. Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. He will regard the prayer of the destitute. He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”
3. The doctrine of prayer. It is connected in Scripture with the Trinity. The Father is represented as on a throne of grace. The Holy Spirit is represented as interceding for us, by creating within our hearts the desire to pray, and teaching us how to address the Most High. The Son is represented as interceding in heaven for us. This is the Scriptural doctrine of prayer. And it evidently involves the fact that God regards prayer as an important exercise on our part.
4. The history of prayer is among the most interesting portions of the Bible.
III. THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER IS PROPORTIONED TO ITS FERVID ENERGY. We instinctively feel that the highest degree and the strongest expression of approbation belongs to the highest forms of character. But there is no more distinctive exhibition of the highest form of religious character than the habit of fervent and earnest prayer. It is connected with the most thorough conquest of that enslavement to sense which is the curse and degradation of man. It shows a mind living in the precincts of the world of light. It is a conquest over that indolence and brutal sluggishness which mark our debased enslavement to an infirm and earth-born body. The energetic prayer shows that the soul has caught at least a glimpse of the heavenly glory; breathed the pure breath of a heavenly atmosphere; enjoyed communion with its Divine Saviour; burst for a moment its accursed bonds; and now it cries, “My soul thirsteth after God, in a dry and thirsty land, where no waters be.” Such is prayer, “the effectual, fervent prayer, the inwrought prayer of the righteous man.” It burns on the heart as God’s holy altar; it consumes the idols of the heart; it makes a sacrifice ofevery interest and every faculty; there is a life given up there, “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” And is it more probable that God will accept such sacrifice? that He will signally express His approbation of a prayer which is wrought in the soul by the gracious power of His own Spirit, Who thus “maketh intercession for us”; and wrought in the soul, too, by your own earnest endeavours to learn to pray, and to be ready to pray? (E. N. Kirk, D. D.)
If we were looking at a steam-engine, and meditating over the motive power of it, we should scarcely direct our thoughts to the safety-valve, or say of it, “What a mighty power is stored up in this little lever!” On the contrary, our attention would be fixed on the piston and the steam at the back of it, and on the laws which govern its production, expansion, and condensation. And we need scarcely say that there is not much in common between those who regard prayer simply as an emotional safety-valve, and those who look upon it as one of the great moving forces of the spiritual world. It happens often enough that there are forces in the world of which people generally are ignorant, or of which they have a totally inadequate idea. As, for instance, we have known cynical politicians deride the expression of public opinion, as being only valuable as a political safety-valve, and useful to keep the “many-headed monster,” the populace, from more dangerous courses; but not once or twice have they been awakened to find that there is nothing to stand before the rush of a well formed public sentiment. So that we say rightly public opinion is of great force. And certainly the idea which the majority of folk attach to the word prayer is but very incommensurate to the part which it occupies, not only in the development of the life of the individual soul, but in the life and lot of the world at large. On the other hand, the force of prayer has been understood by the really spiritual writers of every school and of all time. They knew that prayer is one of the secrets of life; that he who lives prays, and he who prays lives; that he who prays works, and he who works prays; and so large a part of the spiritual life is comprised in the one word prayer, that we find them describing the soul’s advance by the character of the prayer which springs from it. May we not say that our Lord Himself was careful enough both in example and teaching to lead His scholars along this way, making them aware that a great part of the soul’s education was education in prayer? He began by making them feel that they really didn’t know what prayer meant, though they had been taught to say prayers almost since they could speak. So He brings them to a point where they say, “Lord, teach us to pray,” &c.; encourages them further by admonitions to ask, seek, and knock; tells them that if they ask for bread and fish, they won’t get stones and snakes; leads them on until they acquire the sense of the need of a larger faith; instructs them that prayer is the function of an organ of the spiritual life, and must be as constant and persistent as breathing or other natural functions, so that men ought always to pray and not to faint, and that they should keep awake at all times praying, if they are to be found worthy to stand before the Son of man. Finally, one of His last counsels, just before the last great objective teaching of His own life on the subject, connects the force of their prayer with the state of their life John 15:7). (J. Rendel Harria.)
The necessity and efficacy of prayer
I. SOME CAUTIONARY REMARKS.
1. Let us beware of the influence of merely human passions in our solemn approach to the Searcher of hearts. It is by no means impossible that a man of ardent feeling should deceive both himself and his friends, when his natural impetuosity is directed to religious objects. Passion may be mistaken for spirituality; and the danger is greatly increased by the fact that every object that is made the subject of prayer is of deep importance, and therefore worthy of the liveliest emotions of the heart: we ought to be fervent in spirit. Prayer without importunity is like a material body without the breath of life; but our fervency must also be well regulated by consistent knowledge and holy principle. Our feelings may be excited on religious subjects as well as others, even to excess; and the language adopted under their influence will be forcible and strong, while yet the real principle of holiness, the essential spirituality of devotion, may be utterly unknown. Sudden and powerful impulses are always to be suspected; they are not acquired by knowledge; they are not corrected by rational and sober reflection; they are generally the offspring of a rude, untaught, but active mind; and the only answer we can reasonably expect to the unhallowed effusions of human passion, mistaken for prayer, is a rebuke. “Ye know not what ye ask; ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” We justly attach every idea of solemnity and importance to all things connected with a religious profession, and to the observance of all religious duties; but prayer is, without exception, the most solemn act in which a creature polluted with sin, and laden with guilt, can be engaged. If at any time our understanding ought to be in full exercise, if in any case the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart ought to be distinguished by correct knowledge, by serious and deliberate reflections, and by unimpassioned sobriety of mind, it is when we seek the privilege of intercourse with the Father of light, and when we address Him professedly on the subjects of eternal moment.
2. It is very important that we be guarded against unwarranted expectations in answer to prayer. We are not allowed to expect, by any promises of Scripture, that we shall, by our prayers, accomplish anything out of the general order of nature; or that God will, for our sake, effect some great object without the application of appropriate and efficient means. If we ask what we have no right to ask; if we apply to the only wise God for that which we cannot assure ourselves is according to His will; there is no scriptural encouragement to expect a favourable answer: in that case, we shall “ask and receive not, because we ask amiss.” It is perfectly consistent with our acknowledged circumstances to pray for our daily bread; to solicit the protection of Him in whose hands our life is; to “acknowledge God in all our ways”: but it is not to be supposed that the desires and feelings of man, especially in relation to things temporal, should ever be made the standard or rule of the Divine government. Most persons are sometimes placed in a position which would induce them, unless their feelings were chastened by the mighty power of religious principle, to present very improper requests before the throne of God; and many would be glad to get to themselves a distinguished name as having power to prevail with God, being great in prayer and faith; but as the Word of God, which is the only rule of prayer and faith, does not encourage, in any instance, an expectation that the sovereign King should suspend for a single moment the course and order of His ways for our sake; much less can we expect any Divine interposition of an extraordinary and miraculous character without betraying an arrogance of heat, most opposite to the lowly, humble, unassuming spirit of the gospel of Christ.
3. Yet, on the other hand, it is highly important in this age of scepticism to be protected against any doubt of the real efficacy of prayer. It does not follow that because a duty so reasonable, a privilege so excellent, is sometimes misunderstood, and often perverted to evil purposes, therefore it is to be rejected altogether: nor can we allow ourselves to be despoiled, by any specious reasonings called philosophy, of the never-failing source of encouragement we experience in an unshaken conviction, that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Prayer is effectual for every purpose of essential importance; desires may be uttered in the language of prayer, the object of which would be to gratify a lofty or a worldly disposition; but the great object of all religion, especially of this most solemn act of devotion, is to subdue the influence of earthly gratifications, to promote the purity of our hearts, and to accomplish the salvation, the eternal well-being of our immortal souls. It were folly to ask who among men are most distinguished by such high and happy attainments. No one who is conversant with the Scriptures, or with the state and history of the Christian Church in every age, will entertain the hope that even the purest devotion will fortify his physical nature against the attacks of disease, or protect him from the accidents of human life, or save him from the anxieties that are involved in the very pleasures of relative and domestic society. Neither will he suppose that his prayers will create wealth, or command the success he may desire in the common pursuits of business, or raise him to an elevation in the ranks of society that would gratify an ambitious mind. Religion is not designed to make us men of the world.
II. THE APOSTLE’S INSTRUCTIONS.
1. Let it never be forgotten that prayer must always be offered in the name of Christ. To reject the Divinely appointed method of justifying the ungodly, is to reject the righteousness of God: this itself is immorality.
2. The prayer of the righteous is sincere; it is prayer that goeth not out of feigned lips, it is the sentiment of the heart.
3. Prayer must be fervent and importunate. Our own individual necessities, our own immortal souls, the situation of all our fellow creatures, the state of the whole world at the present moment, the character of the times, and the prospect of the Church, all call, and loudly, for energetic prayer.
4. The success of prayer is intimately connected with our habitual character. The prayer of a righteous man will prevail. (S. Morell.)
“Do not break,” said the Bow to the String one day, putting a stretch upon its power. “I will do my utmost,” answered the String; and with a twanging sound the arrow shot forth, pierced the air, went straight to the mark, and gained the prize. The arrow which is shot from a loose cord drops powerless to the ground, but from the tightly-drawn bow-string it springs forward and reaches the object to which it is directed.
Prayer the secret of strength
There is an old story of mythology about a giant named Antaeus, who was borne by the earth. In order to keep alive this giant was obliged to touch the earth as often as once in five minutes, and every time he thus came in contact with the earth he became twice as strong as before. The Christian resembles Antaeus. In order to become and continue a truly living Christian, the disciple must often approach his Father by prayer.
Elias was a man subject to like passions
Good men of like passions with the frail
1. God’s eminent children are men of like passions with us (1 Peter 5:9); they are all troubled with a naughty heart, a busy devil, and a corrupt world. When we partake of the Divine nature we do not put off the human; we ought to walk with care, but yet with comfort.
2. It is no injury to the most holy persons to look upon them as men like ourselves. There is a double fault; some canonise the servants of God, not considering them in their infirmities, make them half gods, who were by privilege exempted from the ordinary state of men, and so lose the benefit of their example. Others reflect only upon their infirmities, and instead of making them precedents of mercy, make them patrons of sin.
3. In the lives of God’s choicest servants there was some considerable weakness. Elias, in the midst of his miracles, was encumbered with many afflictions. Paul had “abundance of revelations,” but “a thorn in the flesh.” In the life of Jesus Christ Himself there was an intermixture of power and weakness; of the Divine glory and human frailty. And all this to show that in the highest dispensations God will keep us humble, and in the lowest providences there is enough to support us.
4. Grace is not impassible, or without passions and affections. The stoics held no man a good man but he that had lost all natural feeling and affection. Elijah was a man of like passions. Grace doth not abrogate our affections, but prefer them; it transplanteth them out of Egypt that they may grow in Canaan; it doth not destroy nature, but direct it.
5. All that God wrought by and for His eminent servants was with respect to His own grace, not to their worth and dignity. God did much for Elijah, but he was a man of like passions with us; though his prayers were effectual, yet he was, as every believer is, indebted to grace. When we have received a high assistance, yet still we are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10).
6. Where the heart is upright our infirmities shall not hinder our prayers. Elijah was a man of like passions, yet he prayed, and it rained not; imitate his faith and earnestness, and your infirmities will be no impediment (2 Chronicles 30:19). Those that do not allow their infirmities may pray with hope of success. God knoweth the voice of the Spirit; our fleshly desires meet with pardon, and our spiritual with acceptance.
7. From that “he prayed earnestly,” or prayed in prayer. This is our duty, to pray in prayer. Not only to say a prayer, but to pray a prayer (Romans 8:26). Let not the heart be wandering while the lips are praying; lip-labour doth no more than a breathing instrument, make a loud noise; the essence of prayer lieth in the ascension of the mind.
8. It is sometimes lawful to imprecate the vengeance of God upon the wicked.
(1) There is a great deal of difference between public and private cases. In all private cases it is the glory of our religion to bless them that curse us, to pray for them that despitefully use us.
(2) In public cases we must not desire revenge directly and formally; so our prayers must respect the vindication of God’s glory, and the avenging of our own case only as it doth collaterally and by consequence follow thereupon.
(3) God’s people do not desire vengeance against particular persons absolutely, but in general against the enemies of the Church, and expressly against such as are known to God to be perverse and implacable.
(4) Their ordinary prayers are against the plots rather than the persons of their enemies. They can love the nature, though they hate the sin.
9. God may continue judgments, especially that of unseasonable weather, for a long time. Second causes do not work by chance, cannot work at pleasure. This is the bridle which God hath upon the world; the ordering of the weather is one of the most visible testimonies of His power and goodness.
10. Lastly, observe how sad it is for any to provoke the prophets of the Lord to pray against them. There is much in their messages, and there is as much in their solemn prayers. (T. Manton.)
God’s good men
I. THE CAPACITY OF HUMANITY. We have probably been impressed with some form of the idea that man, as yet, has only begun to use the powers that are in him, that he walks on earth fettered by many limitations. The question is whether we shall take the average of humanity, and think of the few men who stand above it as exceptional beings, or whether we shall think of them as the standard-bearers of the great advancing army; as the types and prophecies of what shall sometime be the common attainment. Here lies the chief danger, that a man will think that the superior piety of some one, to whom he looks with reverence, is entirely out of his reach, something beyond the range of his capacity. He thinks of the saints as beings of a different order; he asks them to pray for him, and he puts great faith in their prayers; but this is not treating them right; they are but men and women of like passions as we are. They have had to conquer their temptations, overcome their difficulties, and tremble in weakness before they could stand in strength. If they could pray, you can pray; if they had to step up by the Master’s side to live the brave and noble life He led, then, by the same course, and not by clinging to their sainthood, can you go up and become as they are. The line of sainthood superstitiously used has kept men away from God, instead of bringing them to God. But the same thing is going on wherever men forget that the great and good among them are not to be taken as exceptions, but as types and models of all that we may and ought to be. We forget that Christ incarnate was such as we are, and some of us are putting Him where He can be no example to us at all. Let no fear of losing the dear, great truth of the divinity of Jesus make you lose the dear great truth of the humanity of Jesus. No man can know how far he is from God until he has had some vision of himself close to God held in His arms, pressed to His bosom. To be capable of God, to know that God can fill us with Himself, and make us strong in Himself, this is the promise of infinity. Looking on into futurity, you cannot begin to see the end of these paths upon which you are now entering: but you can be all you need to be; you can know all you need to know; where other men have gone you can go, and what they have done you can do. From the men who have won in this life and passed on we should gather hope and courage.
II. THE LIKENESS OF MEN TO ONE ANOTHER. The inequalities of birth and education, the diversities in moral nature surrounding us ca every side, compel us to ask what there is left that is common to all men? What is it that really likens all men to one another? The answer is to be found in that ancient figure of the Bible which represents God as our Father. In a household, or family of children, there are inequalities enough; but there are certain things which they all have in common because they are all members of the same household. One is brave, another is timid; one is prudent, another thoughtless; one is headstrong, another is docile; yet in all their differences of character they are alike in that they have their father’s nature and their household rights. Each, while possessing something distinct from the rest, will have those qualities which mark him as a member of that family. Paul and I are brothers. But, because he wrote an Epistle to the Hebrews, shall I suppose that I can reason and write upon those sublime mysteries? There are certain qualities peculiar to Paul which constitute his manhood; but not one of us can read the story of his life without feeling ourselves grander and holier for it. So always try and believe about the noblest of your race, the men or women in your own circle whom you know to be beyond yourselves in attainment, who possess something personal which you can never represent, that, so far as they show out humanity, the lustre and completeness of human nature, you may get new courage and faith in yourselves from what you see them do.
III. SPIRITUAL POWERS ARE THE MOST COMPLETE STEP OF OUR HUMAN NATURE. Religions nature is very different in all of us; but it is in all of us. The different forms of its utterance are apt to bewilder. We are apt to settle on certain forms, and, because we do not find them everywhere, we think it cannot be that the relation of the child’s soul to the father’s soul constitutes religion. We may appeal to man’s consciousness for this. Here, James says, is a man in the attitude of prayer;-no matter if separated from us by centuries, and no matter if immensely stronger in faith--nevertheless, he is “a man subject to like pass ons,” and to his prayer there comes the answer. He prayed for certain things--rain, food; no matter what it was--he wanted something he could not get out of himself, or out of his ownnature; but he had a right to pray as the Father had told him, and because of his needy human nature, and because of his sacred rights as a child of God. Here is a man who says, “I cannot pray; I am too far from God, I am too worldly,” etc. Are you not needy, and His child? Is not your nature full of the wants He has taught it to feel, and are not your rights as the rights of a child to its father? Your need and your nature as a child of God are all the credentials you want; take these, cast yourselves down beside Elias, and David, and the praying Jesus, for they were all men of like passions with you, and the grace they needed shall be given you as it was given unto them. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
Prayed earnestly that it might not rain
Prayer a good remedy in desperate cases
1. When God meaneth to bestow blessings, He stirreth up the hearts of the people to pray for them. God that decreeth the end, decreeth the means Ezekiel 36:37; Jeremiah 29:12).
2. Though we are sure of the accomplishment of a blessing, yet we must not give over prayer. God’s children are never more diligent and free in their endeavours than when confident of a blessing; hope is industrious, and draweth to action.
3. Prayer is a good remedy in the most desperate cases, and when you are lost to all other hopes, you are not lost to the hopes of prayer.
4. The efficacy of prayer is very great. Certainly they that neglect prayer do not only neglect the sweetest way of converse with God, but the most forcible way of prevailing with Him.
5. There is a mutual dependence and subordination between all second causes. The creatures are serviceable to one another by mutual ministries and supplies; the earth is cherished by the heat of the stars, moistened by the water, and by the temperament of both made fruitful, and so sendeth forth innumerable plants for the comfort and use of living creatures, and living creatures are for the supply of man. (T. Manton.)
Prayer and natural law
Why did Elijah pray that “it might not rain”? Because the whole house of Israel had forsaken God, and he saw that nothing but severe judgments would bring them to penitence and obedience. Why did Elijah pray that the punishment might take this particular form? Ahab had introduced two kinds of idolatry into Israel--the worship of Ashtaroth, and the worship of Baal. Ashtaroth was a female god, the impersonation of sensuality and debauchery, and her worship was similar to that of Venus. Baal, on the other hand, was a male deity, representing the productive powers of the sun. Thus the people worshipped “the grossest sensualism and materialism.” Do you not see what a deadly blow the prophet aimed at this twofold idolatry when he prayed that “it might not rain”? Let famine stalk throughout the land, let it enter the proudest palaces and the humblest cottages, what a ghastly shadow would it cast over the devotees of Ashtaroth while celebrating her unholy mysteries! What a blow to the worshippers of Baal, when, at the word of Elijah, there was neither dew nor rain for more than three years, when the four hundred and fifty priests of Baal had so little influence over the powers of nature that they could not bring down one drop of rain, nor one particle of dew, to moisten the parched earth, or to revive the perishing plants and trees. Baal worship is very powerful just now. We are told, not only by sceptics and scientists, but by Christian ministers and writers, that since the world is governed by law, to pray for rain is to imitate the ancient pagans and the modern heathen in their blind superstition. Is this true? Are we to give up praying on account of the fixedness of physical law?
I. PRAYER IS NATURAL TO MAN. Here is a mother whose child is dangerously ill, apparently suspended between life and death. What is the use of telling that mother that the life of her child depends on fixed laws, and that, therefore, it is sheer ignorance to pray? In her inmost heart she knows that the life of her child is in the hands of God, and that her hope is only in Him. Here, again, is a farmer, the greater part of whose land is raider water, and unless the floods dry up ruin will stare him in the face. If this man believe at all in God, how can he help praying? But the same God who made the earth and the whole universe also made the man, and wrought into the very texture of his being that belief in the efficacy of prayer. Is it not likely, then, that the Creator knew something about the structure of His own universe when He put that spiritual instinct into the man’s soul? Is there not, therefore, at least a strong presumption that He will answer prayer in relation to the weather?
II. IT IS INCREDIBLE THAT THE MAKER OF THE UNIVERSE SHOULD NOT BE ABLE TO REGULATE THE ACTION OF HIS OWN LAWS. The assertion of Professor Tyndall that God, without working a stupendous miracle, “cannot deflect towards us a single beam of the sun,” is simply a gratuitous assumption. This is, indeed, “science, falsely so-called,” for it rests upon no adequate basis of facts. As an infinite Spirit, God is present in every part of the universe, He is near to every atom of matter throughout infinite space, and He is therefore able to interfere effectively at any given point, or throughout any given region. And this, too, not by changing the laws which He Himself has ordained, but by working through those laws. Have not all the marvels of modern science been wrought upon this principle? Cannot any ordinary mortal deflect a beam of the sun without a miracle? and surely the same feat is possible to Omnipotence! Man cannot “make the clouds his chariot, or walk upon the winds of the wind”; but he can make the winds and the lightning his submissive servants. Nay, more. By cutting down forests and by draining low lands and marshes man has actually changed the climate of large tracts of country. Man controls Nature while acting in harmony with her laws; why, then, may not the omnipotent Creator do the same?
III. GOOD MEN, IN ALL AGES, HAVE BELIEVED THAT GOD ACTS UPON NATURE IN ANSWER TO PRAYER. Read the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the temple, and you can have no doubt as to his opinion upon the subject (1 Kings 8:35-36). Take, again, the case of Elijah. When he prayed, first of all, that “it might not rain,” and then afterwards, when the people repented, that rain might be sent, could he give a stronger proof of his belief in the power of prayer with regard to the phenomena of nature? Both these men, too, evidently believed that God has reserved to Himself the right of turning nature to moral uses. Further, does not the Bible give many instances in which God used famine as a rod to chastise His people when they rebelled against Him, and sent plenty when they repented?
IV. BOTH IN ANCIENT AND MODERN TIMES GOD HAS REPEATEDLY ANSWERED PRAYER FOR RAIN. If we believe the history of Elijah, there is an end to the whole controversy; for if God on only one occasion sent rain in answer to prayer, there can be no reason why He should not do so any number of times. Our Lord, at any rate, believed this history, for He took its truthfulness for granted when preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth. Coming down to modern times, it is hard to read the story of the Spanish Armada without believing its destruction to have been the result of direct Divine interference. One of the medals struck to commemorate the event bore the inscription, “Afflavit Dens, et disipantur”--“God blew, and they were scattered.” Many since that time have prayed for favourable weather, and have believed that God heard them. (James Davis.)
Prayer for change of weather
This passage supplies us with Biblical authority for prayers for changes of weather and the like, for the conduct of Elijah is evidently put before us for our imitation. St. James carefully guards against the objection that Elijah was a man gifted with miraculous powers, and therefore no guide for ordinary people, by asserting that he was a man of like nature with ourselves. This kind of prayer seems to require special consideration. “Is it, then, according to the Divine will that when we are individually suffering from the regularity of the course of nature--suffering, for instance, from the want of rain, or the superabundance of it--we should ask God to interfere with that regularity? Let us try to realise what would follow if we offered such prayer and prevailed. In a world-wide Church each believer would constitute himself a judge of what was best for himself and his neighbour, and thus the order of the world would be at the mercy everywhere of individual caprice and ignorance. Irregularity would accordingly take the place of invariableness. No man could possibly foretell what would be on the morrow. The scientist would find all his researches for rule and law baffled; the agriculturist would find all his calculations upset; nature, again, as in the days of ignorance, would become the master of man; like an eagle transfixed by an arrow winged by one of its own feathers, man would have shackled himself with the chains of his ancient servitude by the licentious employment of his own freedom, and would have reduced the cosmos of which God made him the master to a chaos which overwhelmed him by its unexpected blows” (the Bishop of Manchester, September 4, 1887, in Manchester Cathedral, during a meeting of the British Association). The objection to prayers for rain, or for the cessation of rain, and the like, is based on the supposition that we thereby “ask God to interfere with the regularity of the course of nature.” Yet it is admitted that to “pray for submission to the Divine will, and for such wisdom as shall lead to compliance with it in the future, is a matter of course, and results inevitably from the relation between the spiritual Father and the spiritual child.” But is there no regularity about the things thus admitted to be fit objects of prayer? Are human character and human intellect not subject to law? When we pray for a submissive spirit and for wisdom, are we not asking God to “interfere with that regularity” which governs the development of character and of intelligence? Either the prayer is to obtain more submission and more wisdom than we should otherwise get, or it is not. If it is to obtain it, then the regularity which would otherwise have prevailed is interrupted. If our prayer is not to obtain for us more submission and more wisdom than we should have obtained if we had not prayed, then the prayer is futile. The objection is sometimes stated in a slightly different form. God has arranged the material universe according to His infinite wisdom; it is presumptuous to pray that He will make any change in it. The answer to which is, that if that argument is valid against praying for rain, it is valid against all prayer whatever. God knows without our asking what weather is best for us; and Lie knows equally without our asking what spiritual graces are best for us. Does not the parallel difficulty point to a parallel solution? What right have we to assume that in either case effectual prayer interferes with the regularity which seems to characterise Divine action? May it not be God’s will that the prayer of faith should be a force that can influence other forces, whether material or spiritual, and that its influence should be according to law (whether natural or supernatural) quite as much as the influence of other forces? A man who puts up a lightning-conductor brings down the electric current when it might otherwise have remained above, and brings it down in one place rather than another; yet no one would say that he interferes with the regularity of the course of nature. Is there anything in religion or science to forbid us from thinking of prayer as working in an analogous manner--according to a law too subtle for us to comprehend and analyse, but according to a law none the less? (A. Plummer, D. D.)
Premier for rain
An interesting coincidence in connection with this reference to Elijah’s history presents itself in the narrative given in Josephus of the troubles caused by Caligula’s insane attempt to set up his statue in the temple at Jerusalem. Petronius, the then Governor of Judaea, was moved by the passionate entreaties of the people, and supported the efforts made by Agrippa I., who remained at Rome, to turn the Emperor from his purpose. It was one of the years of drought that brought about the great famine foretold by Agabus. No rain had fallen for many weeks, and the people--Christians as well as Jews, though Josephus, of course, makes no mention of the former--were “instant in prayer,” calling upon the Lord God of Israel to send rain upon the earth. Suddenly rain fell in a plenteous shower from an almost cloudless sky. The earth was refreshed, and the pressing danger averted. Petronius, Josephus relates, was much moved by this manifestation, this Epiphany of the Divine power, and looked upon it partly as an answer to the prayers of the people, partly as the reward of the equity which he had shown in dealing with them. (Dean Plumptre.)
If any of you do err from the truth
Heresy: an exposition and an appeal
Men may think falsely, and live virtuously; or they may live immorally, and think correctly.
The one class are intellectual sinners: the other moral transgressors. They are to be judged by different standards, and so classified as not to be swept away in one common anathema. If error proceeds from sheer intellectual inability to see as the majority see, charity should be exercised in all its power and tenderness; but if error proceeds from a putrid heart--if it is cherished because truth is too regardful of the conduct, and too restraining for the wildness of passion--their indignation may be excited, and consequences allowed to discharge their retributive fires.
I. THE POSSIBILITY OF A TRUTH-POSSESSOR BECOMING A TRUTH-LOSER.
1. Through a daring, speculative turn of thought. We are not of those who would close the inquiring eye and bind the exploring wing; yet our duty is to warn the student that there are dangerous latitudes in every sea, and that many a gallant vessel has been shivered on the hidden rock.
2. Through want of sympathy in their intellectual difficulties. Woe unto the Church when honest thought and honest speech are repressed! When intellect is stagnant, its putrid effluvium may corrupt the heart’s holiest feelings.
3. Through intellectual pride. Some men are ever in minorities through a love of singularity. They confound impertinence with candour, and mistake rudeness for originality.
II. THE PRINCIPLE OF MUTUAL OVERSIGHT IN SPIRITUAL LIFE IS RECOGNISED. GO to the erring one with a brother’s gentleness, and you may win his soul from destruction. The nearer he is to the edge of the precipice, the more caution is required on the part of those who have his interest at heart.
III. THE SALVATION OF THE SOUL IS THE SUBLIMEST OF MORAL TRIUMPHS.
1. Christ deemed it worthy of His incarnation and sacrifice.
2. The mission of God’s Spirit is thus fulfilled.
3. The sum of moral goodness is augmented. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Wandering from the truth
Truth is the purest, the most powerful, and the most enduring thing in the universe. Truth makes God to be God, and when God came in the flesh, the brightest crown He could place upon His own head, the noblest name He could give to His personality was “The Truth.” All the wrongs in the universe begin by a wandering from the truth. This is so in every department of human thought, emotion, and action. It is because the sin begins in some slight departure, in the man, from that which is true, leading to a departure of the affections, which produces a departure in the outward life, that men should be strenuously anxious to know the truth, especially the truth as to their highest things, their highest connections; the truth as to God, their own nature, their relations to God, and their own character. When men talk of the valuelessness of doctrine, and say it does not matter what a man believes so that his life is right, they show their absolute ignorance of the whole subject. It is as if one should say, it is no matter what disease a man has so long as he has health. The outward life of a man is the product of his character, and his character is the product of his creed. If there be one rule without an exception this must be the rule. It certainly is the counterpart in the spiritual world of the fact in physics that no stream ever rises above its source. Now, the source of the outer life is the creed. Nay, it is something still stronger than that. A man is just what he believes, no more, no less. Neither God nor the devil can make him any more or any less. To make any change in him the good or the bad need not strive to mould his outer life, or by any other process attempt to change his character except by efforts to make a change in his creed. If he have believed error, to make him a good man he must be brought to faith in the truth; if he have such faith, to make him a bad man all that is necessary is to break the hold of his faith on the truth. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Now the phrase, “thinks in his heart,” is equivalent to “creed,” creed being compounded of two words, signifying that form of belief to which I give my heart. If any one shall object to this that there are so many who profess a good creed and lead a bad life, the reply is ready. In such a case the creed is only professed, not held. Indeed, a creed is not that which a man holds at all; it is that which holds him. When a man once comes into vital connection with the creed, he is never its master; it is always his. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)
The erring to be reclaimed
Another practical precept to conclude with: abrupt, as regards the verses immediately preceding, but embodying that thought of the duty of brotherhood which runs like a golden thread through the tissue of the Epistle. It has been treated negatively, Do the brethren no ill; repay no injuries” (James 5:9 ff.); then positively, “Minister to them, and pray with them for bodily and spiritual healing” (James 5:14 ff.); and now, lastly,” Seek them out; reclaim for Christ His lost sheep.” This is the climax of love; more than brotherly, Christlike! In connection with the exhortation to prayer, this may be looked on as praying with the hands, working as God’s ministers towards the fulfilment of that has been uttered by the lips. (Dean Scott.)
He which converteth the sinner.
Converting sinners a Christian duty
I. Inquire into THE TRUE IDEA OF A SINNER.
1. A sinner is, essentially, a moral agent, tie must be the responsible author of his own acts, in such a sense that he is not compelled irresistibly to act one way or another, otherwise than according to his own free choice. He must also have intellect, so that he can understand his own relations and apprehend his moral responsibilities. He must also have sensibility, so that he can be moved to action--so that there can be inducement to voluntary activity, and also a capacity to appropriate the motives for right of wrong action.
2. He is a selfish moral agent devoted to his own interests, making himself his own supreme end of action.
3. We have here the true idea of sin. It is, in an important sense, error. It is not a mere mistake, for mistakes are made through ignorance or incapacity. Nor is it a mere defect of constitution, attributable to its author. But it is an “error in his ways.” It is missing the mark in his voluntary course of conduct. It is a voluntary divergence from the line of duty.
II. WHAT IS CONVERSION? What is it to “convert the sinner from the error of his ways”? It is changing the great moral end of action. It supplants selfishness and substitutes benevolence in its stead.
III. IN WHAT SENSE DOES MAN CONVERT A SINNER? Our text reads--“If any of you do err from the truth and one convert him”--implying that man may convert a sinner. But in what sense can this be said and done? I answer, the change must of necessity be a voluntary one--not a change in the essence of the soul, nor in the essence of the body--not any change in the created constitutional faculties; but a change which the mind itself, acting under various influences, makes as to its own voluntary end of action. It is an intelligent change--the mind, acting intelligently and freely, changes its moral course, and does it for perceived reasons. Even God cannot convert a sinner without his own consent. He cannot, for the simple reason that the thing involves a contradiction. The being converted implies his own consent--else it is no conversion at all. God converts men, therefore, only as He persuades them to turn from the error of their selfish ways to the rightness of benevolent ways. So, also, man can convert a sinner only in the sense of presenting the reasons that induce the voluntary change and thus persuading him to repent. If he can do this, then he converts a sinner from the error of his ways. But the Bible informs us that man alone never does or can convert a sinner. It holds, however, that when man acts humbly, depending on God, God works with him and by him. Men are “labourers together with God.” They present reasons and God enforces those reasons on the mind.
IV. WE MUST NEXT INQUIRE INTO THE KIND OF DEATH OF WHICH THE TEXT SPEAKS. “Shall save a soul from death.”
1. By the death of the soul is sometimes meant spiritual death--a state in which the mind is not influenced by truth as it should be. The man is under the dominion of sin and repels the influence of truth.
2. Or the death of the soul may be eternal death--the utter loss of the soul and its final ruin. To be always a sinner is awful enough--is a death of fearful horror; but how terribly augmented is even this when you conceive of it as heightened by everlasting punishment, far away “from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power!”
V. We can now consider THE IMPORTANCE OF SAVING A SOUL FROM DEATH. Our text says, he who converts a sinner saves a soul from death. Consequently he saves him from all the misery he else must have endured. So much misery is saved. And this amount is greater in the case of each sinner saved than all that has been experienced in our entire world up to this hour. Yet farther. The amount of suffering thus saved is greater not only than all that ever has been, but than all that ever will be endured in this world. Nay, more, the amount thus saved is greater than the created universe ever can endure in any finite duration. Aye, it is even greater, myriads of times greater, than all finite minds can ever conceive. But let us look at still another view of the case. He who converts a sinner not only saves more misery, but confers more happiness than all the world has yet enjoyed, or even all the created universe. You have converted a sinner, have you? Indeed! Then think what has been gained! Does any one ask, What then? Let the facts of the case give the answer. The time will come when he will say, In my experience of God and Divine things, 1 have enjoyed more than all the created universe had done up to the general judgment--more than the aggregate happiness of all creatures, during the whole duration of our world; and yet my happiness is only just begun! Onward, still onward--onward for ever rolls the deep tide of my blessedness, and evermore increasing! If these things be true, then--
1. Converting sinners is the work of the Christian life. It is the great work to which we, as Christians, are especially appointed. Who can doubt this?
2. It is the great work of life because its importance demands that it should be. It is so much beyond any other work in importance that it cannot be rationally regarded as anything other or less than the great work of life.
3. It can be made the great work of life, because Jesus Christ has made provision for it. His atonement covers the human race and lays the foundation so broad that whosoever will may come. The promise of His Spirit to aid each Christian in this work is equally broad, and was designed to open the way for each one to become a labourer together with God in this work of saving souls.
4. Benevolence can never stop short of it. Where so much good can be done and so much misery can be prevented, how is it possible that benevolence can fail to do its utmost?
5. Living to save others is the condition of saving ourselves. No man is truly converted who does not live to save others. Every truly converted man turns item selfishness to benevolence, and benevolence surely leads him to do all he can to save the souls of his fellow-man. This is the changeless law of benevolent action.
6. The self-deceived are always to be distinguished by this peculiarity--they live to save themselves. This is the chief end of all their religion. All their religious efforts and activities tend toward this sole object. If they can secure their own conversion so as to be pretty sure of it, they are satisfied. Sometimes the ties of natural sympathy embrace those who are especially near to them; but selfishness goes commonly no further, except as a good name may prompt them on.
7. Some persons take no pains to convert sinners, but act as if this were a matter of no consequence whatever. They do not labour to persuade men to be reconciled to God. (C. G. Finney.)
Converting a soul
I. A SOUL LOST BY ERROR.
1. A safe antecedent state. What is it to be in conformity with the truth?
(1) Our conceptions in harmony with its spirit.
(2) Our life in harmony with its spirit.
2. A fearful possibility. It is implied that a soul can fall from that state, can err from that truth, can bound away from that orbit.
(1) This man can do because he is moral.
(2) This man has done.
II. A SOUL SAVED BY MAN.
1. It is possible for man to convert a soul.
2. The man who converts a soul accomplishes immense good.
3. The immense good he accomplishes should be well considered by him. “Let him know” it--to cheer him amidst the discouragements of his labours, and to inspire him with persevering zeal. (D. Thomas.)
Conversion of the erring a Christian duty
I. THE CASE SUPPOSED. How few fulfil their first promise. Where are all the baptized? Demas still forsakes the truth for the love of the present world. There are many still like the Galatians (Galatians 3:1-4), and the Philippians (Philippians 3:18-19), and the backsliders of Sardis and Laodicea. What, then, are we to fold our hands? Are we to excuse ourselves on the ground that we are not to blame; that it is no business of ours; that though sorry we cannot help? No, there is a better way. If we saw a man nearing a precipice would we not warn him? If we found a child lost in the wilds would we not speak kindly to him and lead him home?
II. THE REMEDY PRESCRIBED. Whom have you converted? Is there one upon earth that blesses you, as having, under God, turned him from the error of his way? Is there one in heaven who will welcome you to the everlasting habitations as the Christian friend who helped him in the hour of need, and saved his soul from death?
III. THE GLORIOUS ISSUE.
1. Great loss averted.
2. Great good secured.
3. Great joy.
1. The preciousness of the soul.
2. The liability of good men to err.
3. The necessity of conversion to safety and forgiveness.
4. The obligation upon every Christian to seek the conversion of such as have gone astray. (Win. Forsyth.)
On restoring backsliders
1. The text does not apply to--
(1) the unconverted;
(2) the hypocrite;
(3) those who are intellectually wrong.
2. But to one who has been truly converted to Jesus, and yet has gone back into the world again.
I. IT IS POSSIBLE TO BACKSLIDE. Some of the causes--
1. A false estimate of the requirements of discipleship.
2. A false estimate of one’s own strength.
3. Intellectual pride.
4. Neglect of the means of grace.
II. THE CHRISTIAN DUTY OF MUTUAL OVERSIGHT.
III. THE RESTORATION OF THE BACKSLIDER IS ONE OF THE GRANDEST AND NOBLEST OF ALL CHRISTIAN WORKS. (A. F. Barfield.)
Human agency in the sinner’s conversion to God
I. THE GREAT OBJECT OF CHRISTIAN ZEAL.
1. The conversion of the sinner, i.e., a change in the--
2. The importance of conversion is seen when we remember that--
(1) Unconverted, the man’s influence is evil;
(2) unconverted, he cannot enter heaven.
II. THE MEANS BY WHICH WE MAY ACCOMPLISH HIS.
1. The force of exhortation.
2. The management of your influence.
3. The power of example.
4. The importunity of prayer.
III. THE MOTIVES FOR ENGAGING IN THIS GREAT WORK.
1. Much evil shall be removed.
2. Much good shall be conferred.
3. Much joy shall be imparted. (Hugh McGatrie.)
Conversion of others
1. A man may convert his fellow--
(1) By planting in him some saving truth.
(2) By showing the truth embodied in a rounded and radiant life.
2. Christians ought to strive to convert those who err.
(1) It saves a soul from death.
(2) It hides a multitude of sins (Psalms 51:9; Psalms 32:1; Pr 1 Peter 4:8).
(3) It is the grandest work.
(4) It is an enduring work.
(5) It is the most certain work.
“Know.” Other work may disappoint. In the early Christian Church one sold himself as a slave to a heathen family to gain access. They were converted, and freed him. Then he sold himself to the Governor of Sparta, with like result. If all Christians had that spirit! (C. F. Deems, D. D.)
The conversion of sinners, the supreme object of Christian benevolence
I. THE PROPENSITY OF MANKIND TO ERR FROM THE TRUTH SO obviously assumed in the text.
1. Some do err from the truth after being taught it by their parents and ministers; after knowing something of its beauty and excellence; after enrolling their names among its friends, and giving some hopeful proofs of its vital and transforming power. Gradually seduced by temptations, evil companions, &c., they become at first indifferent, then reject one point after another, and at last abandon all its claims, and join the ranks of its enemies.
2. Others do err from the truth through habitual inattention to its claims, or a secret aversion to its spirit and authority, felt in youth and confirmed afterwards by indulgence in sin, and the corrupting associations of the world.
3. More still err from the truth, through a total destitution of the means of knowledge, and the influence of some system of error and delusion, instilled into the mind in youth, and identified with all their interests and associations.
II. THE IMPORTANT CHANGE NECESSARY TO SALVATION; the conversion of a sinner from the error of his way. It is a change from ignorance of Divine things to spiritual discernment; from serious errors to the reception of saving truth; from unbelief to a cordial faith in the Son of God; from feelings and habits of impiety to the love and adoration of his Maker; from a course of vanity and sin to a life of integrity and virtue; from the mere morality of worldly prudence to all the graces of Christian piety; and from the inordinate cares and pursuits of time to a sincere and immediate preparation for eternity.
III. THE MEANS AND AGENCY BY WHICH THIS CHANGE MAY BE EFFECTED: “If one convert him.” God might doubtless produce this change in a sinner by an immediate operation on the soul, without any sensible agency, or visible means whatever. But the apostle supposes, in the text, that one is converted by the instrumentality of another, and that the use of fit means for that purpose was the common concern of all who constituted the first Christian Churches. For, as in nature God effects all His purposes by second causes, and makes the elements of the physical system the means of all its changes and productions; so it has pleased Him, in the moral and spiritual world, to effect His purposes of grace by the instrumentality of His servants. The Spirit of God enlightens and improves the human spirit by reasonable means; by intelligent and self-conscious means; by means suited to its powers and responsibilities; by means which do not suspend its freedom, but lead the mind, of its own choice, to a new and efficient use of its faculties.
IV. THE MOTIVES AND CONSIDERATIONS WHICH SHOULD INDUCE AND SUSTAIN THE ATTEMPT.
1. The magnitude of its immediate results.
2. The accordance of these means with the spirit and commands of the gospel, and the express purpose of God in the economy of redemption.
3. The promise of Divine influence in connection with human instrumentality, and the good already accomplished as a pledge of future success.
4. The subservience of the conversion of sinners to the glory of God, promoting as it does, in every instance, the manifestation of His perfections, and the triumphs of His grace, in restoring fallen man to His image and favour for ever.
5. The holy satisfaction to be found in this good work, and the gracious reward which awaits the faithful, in the blessed results of their exertions, and the grateful recollections of eternity. (T. Finch.)
Motives to Christian zeal
I. CONVERSION TO GOD IS OF INDISPENSABLE NECESSITY.
II. IT IS EFFECTED BY HUMAN INSTRUMENTALITY.
1. The pious education of the young.
2. The circulation of the Scriptures.
3. The preaching of the gospel.
III. IT Is THE DUTY OF CHRISTIANS TO SEEK THE CONVERSION OF SINNERS. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Jewel gatherers for the Redeemer’s crown
These are the last words of the Epistle. From the abrupt nature of its conclusion, and from the absence of the ordinary salutation and doxology, some have supposed that the original intention was to write at greater length, but at this part of the Epistle the apostle was surprised by the tumultuous Jews, and suddenly hurried off to martyrdom. If this supposition be true, how solemnly the words stand as the last of a wise and generous spirit! With what worthier words than these parting counsels would any one wish to die? In any case, whether this supposition is true or not, there is very much instruction and encouragement couched in them which will repay our careful study.
I. THERE IS INDIVIDUAL DANGER; THE POSSIBILITY OF ERRING FROM THE TRUTH. This danger may be either intellectual or moral; either the darkening of the understanding, or the corruption of the heart. The allusion, evidently, is to one who, having known the truth, had departed from its safe and pleasant paths, and had come under the entanglements, either of erroneous notions, or of vicious life. And this twofold danger is in existence still.
1. There is nowadays, I need not remind you, a danger of intellectual error. If, when the apostle wrote--in the very childhood, so to speak, of Christianity--the tares sown by the enemy were so rank in their luxuriant growth that there were some who denied the divinity of Jesus, and some who allied impurity to devotion, and some who dreamed that they had had a release from the obligations to personal obedience--surely the danger of intellectual error is not the less imminent now, when every man deems himself inspired, and has some form or theory of his own. And, when we consider the almost inevitable connection between faith and practice, we cannot loin in the sentiments of those who deem it a matter of indifference as to that may be the peculiarities of creed. We cannot forget that because of his opinion the Moslem enters upon fierce wars of extermination, and that because of his opinion the Hindoo, personally merciful, defends infanticide, and mourns that widows are no longer burned nor captives immolated, as over some lost privilege. We cannot forget that in the Japanese, who, amid barbarous rites, hold festival to uproot the cross; and the Thugs, who strangle from principle, and whose great merit is in the multiplication of murders, the opinions prompt the deed. There are some among the teachers of religion who denounce creeds and denominations almost as vehemently as they denounce infidelity and sin, and whose special mission appears to be to advocate the extinction, not only of the middle walls of partition, but of those old and venerable landmarks which guard the poor man’s heritage. It is a dangerous thing, believe me, to loose off from safe anchorage on matters of Christian belief, or of Christian communion, or of Divine fellowship. Search the Scriptures for yourselves, only take care that you come to the investigation stripped of pride, prejudice, and preconceived hostility--with your spirits softened into a docile trust, with your hearts humbled to the obedience of the truth, and, above all, with fervency of prayer for the guidance of the good Spirit from on high, and that Spirit shall be given to the man that shall inquire, and you shall know of the truth or doctrine whether it be of God.
2. There is danger, not only of intellectual, but of moral error. This is, I need not remind you, more imminent and more disastrous than the other. It is quite possible to hold erroneous opinions in connection with a large charity. Wood, hay, and stubble are sometimes built of as clumsy materials on the true foundation; but where the danger is not intellectual, but moral, there is, of necessity, present alienation from God, and the prospect of perpetual exile from the glory of His power. Heresy is not a trifling thing; it is to be resisted and deplored; but the deadliest heresy is sin.
II. I turn now from the platform of individual danger to that of INDIVIDUAL EFFORT. “If any of you err from the truth, and one convert him.” “If one convert him.” There is here a distinct recognition of the influence of mind over mind, that principle of dependence and of oversight which is involved in our mutual relationship as members of one family. The minister ever his flock, the parent over his children, the master over his scholars, the scholars reflecting again upon the master, the servant upon the employer, and the employer upon the servant--all are exerting an influence. They cannot help it, and they cannot cease from it; it is the absolute and irrevocable law of their being. “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth and one convert him”--that is, one among themselves, not separated to the holy ministry, but one of his companions; one who is engaged in the same avocations; one who does not preach in the pulpit, but who preaches in the life. It is the persuasiveness of Christian influence that is meant, rather than a public appeal; it is the duty of the individual believer, rather than the duty of the public minister of the truth. There is not a single member of a single Church in the world that is exempt from this service. All are summoned to the labour, and all -oh, infinite condescension!--may be co-workers together with God. “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him.” Oh, look at that! “If one convert him.” Not the associated force; not the single army; not the phalanx; not even the regiment; but one solitary soldier--if one convert him. See the mighty results of single-handed labour! Some one has said they are minorities of ones that do all the great works of mankind; and it is amazing how large a result will follow from one man’s simple, earnest, unostentatious, prayerful labour. Your sphere is narrow, you say; your influence is small; you feel as if you can do nothing for Christ. Don’t now, don’t any one of you begin to undervalue your own powers. One acorn is a very insignificant thing; but that majestic oak is its development of strength. One little rippling wavelet makes no account, but it is carried to the spring-tide, and the spring-tide were not perfect without it. One raindrop is hardly noticed as it falls, but it is enough for one rose-bud’s life to make it blow. There is not one of you, however small and scanty and narrow your influence, who may not, by patient and prayerful toil, become wise winners of souls. Brethren, I charge you examine yourselves in this matter. Have you done your duty? Let there now be born in the heart of each of you a purpose for God. (W. M. Punshon, D. D.)
I. Here is a great principle involved--a very important one--that of INSTRUMENTALITY.
1. Instrumentality is not necessary with God. God can if He pleases cast the instrument aside. The mighty Maker of the world who used no angels to beat out the great mass of nature and fashion it into a round globe, He who without hammer or anvil fashioned this glorious world, can if He pleases speak, and it is done, command and it shall stand fast. He needs not instruments, though He uses them.
2. Instrumentality is very honourable to God, and not dishonourable. Suppose a workman has power and skill with his hands alone to fashion a certain article; but you put into his hands the worst of tools you can find; you know he can do it well with his hands, but these tools are so badly made that they will be the greatest impediment that you could lay in his way. Well now, I say, if a man with these bad instruments, or these poor tools--things without edges--that are broken, that are weak and frail, is able to make some beauteous fabric, he has more credit from the use of those tools than he would have had if he had done it simply with his hands, because the tools, so far from being an advantage were a disadvantage to him; so far from being a help, are on my supposition, even a detriment to him in his work. So God uses instruments to set forth His own glory, and to exalt Himself.
3. Usually God does employ instruments. I have heard of some--I remember them now--who were called like Saul, at once from heaven. We can remember the history of the brother who in the darkness of the night was called to know the Saviour by what he believed to be a vision from heaven, or some effect on his imagination. On one side he saw a black tablet of his guilt, and his soul was delighted to see Christ cast a white tablet over it; and he thought he heard a voice that said, “I am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” There was a man converted almost without instrumentality; but you do not meet with such a case often. Most persons have been convinced by the pious conversation of sisters, by the holy example of mothers, by the minister, by the Sabbath-school, or by the reading of tracts or perusing Scripture.
4. If God sees fit to make use of any of us for the conversion of others, we must not therefore be too sure that we are converted ourselves. It is a most solemn thought that God makes use of ungodly men as instruments for the conversion of sinners. Grace is not spoiled by the rotten wooden spouts it runs through. God did once speak by an ass to Balaam, but that did not spoil His words. So He speaks, not simply by an ass, which He often does, but by something worse than that. He can fill the mouth of ravens with food for an Elijah, and yet the raven is a raven still.
5. If God in His mercy does not make us useful to the conversion of sinners, we are not therefore to say we are sure we are not the children of God. If I testify to them the truth of God and they reject His gospel; if I faithfully preach His truth, and they scorn it, my ministry is not therefore void. It has not returned to God void, for even in the punishment of those rebels He will be glorified, even in their destruction He will get Himself honour, and if He cannot get praise from their songs, He will at last get honour from their condemnation.
6. God, by using us as instruments, confers upon us the highest honour which men can receive.
II. THE GENERAL FACT. The choicest happiness which mortal breast can know is the happiness of benevolence--of doing good to our fellow-creatures. To save a body from death is that which gives us almost heaven on earth. Those monks on Mount St. Bernard, surely, must feel happiness when they rescue men from death. The dog comes to the door, and they know what it means: he has discovered some poor weary traveller who has lain him down to sleep in the snow, and is dying from cold and exhaustion. Up rise the monks from their cheerful fire, intent to act the good Samaritan to the lost one. At last they see him; they speak to him; but he answers not. They try to discover if there is breath in his body, and they think he is dead. They take him up, give him remedies; and hastening to their hostel, they lay him by the fire, and warm and chafe him, looking into his face with kindly anxiety, as much as to say, Poor creature! art thou dead? When, at last, they perceive some hearings of the lungs, what joy in the breasts of those brethren, as they say, “His life is not extinct!” Methinks if there could be happiness on earth, it would be the privilege to help to chafe one hand of that poor, almost dying man, and be the means of bringing him to life again. Or suppose another case. A house is in flames, and in it is a woman with her children, who cannot by any means escape. In vain she attempts to come downstairs; the flames prevent her. She has lost all presence of mind and knows not how to act. The strong man comes, and says, “Make way! make way! I must save that woman!” And, cooled by the genial streams of benevolence, he marches through the fire. Though scorched and almost stifled, he gropes his way. He ascends one staircase, then another; and though the stairs totter, he places the woman beneath his arm, takes the child on his shoulder, and down he comes, twice a giant, having more might than he ever possessed before. He has jeopardised his life, and perhaps an arm may be disabled, or a limb taken away, or a sense lost, or an injury irretrievably done to his body; yet he claps his hands, and says, “I have saved lives from death!” The crowd in the street hail him as a man who has been the deliverer of his fellow-creatures, honouring him more than the monarch who has stormed a city, sacked a town, and murdered myriads. But, ah! the body which was saved from death to-day may die tomorrow. Not so the soul that is saved from death: it is saved everlastingly. It is saved beyond the fear of destruction. And if there be joy in the breast of a benevolent man when he saves a body from death, how much more blessed must he be when he is made the means in the hand of God of saving “a soul from death, and hiding a multitude of sins.” A single word spoken may be more the means of conversion than a whole sermon. God often blesses a short, pithy expression from a friend, more than a long discourse by a minister. There was once in a village, where there had been a revival in religion, a man who was a confirmed infidel. Notwithstanding all the efforts of the minister and many Christian people, he had resisted all attempts, and appeared to be more and more confirmed in his sin. At length the people held a prayer-meeting, specially to intercede for his soul. Afterwards God put it into the heart of one of the elders of the church to spend a night in prayer in behalf of the poor infidel. In the morning the elder rose from his knees, saddled his horse, and rode down to the man’s smithy. He meant to say a great deal to him, but he simply went up to him, took him by the hand, and all he could say was, “Oh, sir! I am deeply concerned for your salvation. I am deeply concerned for your salvation. I have been wrestling with my God all this night for your salvation.” He could say no more, his heart was too full. He then mounted on his horse and rode away again. Down went the blacksmith’s hammer, and he went immediately to see his wife. She said, “What is the matter with you?”
“Matter enough,” said the man, “I have been attacked with a new argument this time. There is Elder B. has been here this morning; and he said, ‘I am concerned about your salvation.’ Why, now if he is concerned about my salvation, it is a strange thing that I am not concerned about it.” The man’s heart was clean captured by that kind word from the elder; he took his own horse and rode to the elder’s house. When he arrived there the elder was in his parlour, still in prayer; and they kneeled down together. God gave him a contrite spirit and a broken heart, and brought that poor sinner to the feet of the Saviour. There was “a soul saved from death, and a multitude of sins covered.”
2. Again, you may be the means of conversion by a letter you may write. There is your brother. He is careless and hardened. Sister, sit down and write a letter to him: when he receives it, he will perhaps smile, but he will say, “Ah, well! it is Betsy’s letter after all!” And that will have some power. I knew a gentleman whose dear sister used often to write to him concerning his soul. “I used,” said he, “to stand with my back up against a lamp-post, with a cigar in my mouth, perhaps at two o’clock in the morning, to read her letter. I always read them; and I have,” said he, “wept floods of tears after reading my sister’s letters. Though I still kept on in the error of my ways, they always checked me; they always seemed a hand pulling me away from sin; a voice crying out, ‘Come back! Come back!’” And at last a letter from her, in coujunction with a solemn providence, was the means of breaking his heart, and he sought salvation through a Saviour.
3. Again. How many have been converted by the example of true Christians. An infidel will use arguments to disprove the Bible, if you set it before him; but, if you do to others as you would that they should do to you, if you give of your bread to the poor and dispense to the needy, living like Christ, speaking words of kindness and love, and living honestly and uprightly in the world, he will say, “Well, I thought the Bible was all hypocrisy; but I cannot think so now, because there is Mr. So-and-so--see how he lives. I could believe my infidelity if it were not for him. The Bible certainly has an effect upon his life, and, therefore, I must believe it.”
4. And then, how many souls may be converted by what some men are privileged to write and print. I value books for the good they may do to men’s souls. Much as I respect the genius of Pope, or Dryden, or Burns, give me the simple lines of Cowper, that God has owned in bringings souls to Him. Oh I to think that we may write and print books which shall reach poor sinners’ hearts.
5. But, after all, preaching is the ordained means for the salvation of sinners, and by this ten times as many are brought to the Saviour as by any other. Ah! my friends, to have been the means of saving souls from death by preaching--what an honour!” Oh! men and women, how can ye better spend your time and wealth than in the cause of the Redeemer? What holier enterprise can ye engage in than this sacred one of saving souls from death, and hiding a multitude of sins. This is a wealth that ye can take with you--the wealth that has been acquired under God, by having saved souls from death, and covered a multitude of sins.
III. THE APPLICATION. It is this: that he who is the means of the conversion of a sinner does, under God, “save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins”; but particular attention ought to be paid to backsliders; for in bringing backsliders into the Church there is as much honour to God as in bringing in sinners. “Brethren, if any one of you do err from the truth, and one convert him.” Alas! the poor backslider is often the most forgotten. A member of the Church has disgraced his profession; the Church excommunicated him, and he was accounted “a heathen man and a publican.” I know of men of good standing in the gospel ministry, who ten years ago fell into sin; and that is thrown in our teeth to this very day. Do you speak of them you are at once informed, “Why, ten years ago they did so-and-so.” Christian men ought to be ashamed of themselves for taking notice of such things so long afterwards. True, we may use more caution in our dealings: but to reproach a fallen brother for what he did so long ago is contrary to the spirit of John, who went after Peter, three days after he had denied his Master with oaths and curses. Recollect you would have been a backslider too if it were not for the grace of God. I advise you, whenever you see professors living in sin to be very shy of them; but if after a time you see any sign of repentance, or if you do not, go and seek out the lost sheep of the house of Israel; for remember, that if one of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him remember that “he who converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” “Backsliders, who your misery feel,” I will come after you one moment. Poor backslider, thou wast once a Christian. Dost thou hope thou wast? “No,” sayest thou, “I believe I deceived myself and others; I was no child of God.” Well, if thou didst, let me tell thee, that if thou wilt acknowledge that, God will forgive thee. Come thou, then, to His feet; cast thyself on His mercy; and though thou didst once enter His camp as a spy, He will not hang thee up for it, but will be glad to get thee anyhow as a trophy of mercy. But if thou wast a child of God, and canst say, honestly, “I know I did love Him, and He loved me,” I tell thee He loves thee still. If thou hast gone ever so far astray, thou art as much His child as ever. Though thou hast run away from thy Father, come back, come back, He is thy Father still. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The greatness of being instrumental to another’s conversion
St. James was speaking to those who were the true and faithful disciples of Christ; not to hirelings, who would think only of what was personal to themselves, or who could view their own interests separately from those of His Church. The true Christian is one who burns with zeal for the glory of God, and who loves his fellow-men, as children of the same Father, and redeemed by the same blood. Show him, then, what he can do to promote God’s glory, or to benefit his fellow-men, and you show him what he will eagerly seize on, as meeting his desires and deserving of his energies. He has so much of conformity to Christ, that as the blessed Redeemer “pleased not Himself,” but “poured out His soul unto death,” that He might save sinners from eternal destruction, so he thinks not of what may minister to his individual happiness, but seeks his own good in that of strangers, and even enemies. Is it nothing, then, to him, that he may be instrumental to the “saving a soul from death”--to the “hiding a multitude of sins”? The soul is that of which we are taught assuredly that it shall not die; that God hath endowed it with immortality. The death of the soul is life--eternal life--but life under the frown of the Almighty: the life of anguish; the life of remorse; the life of despair; life with all the darkness of death, but with none of its repose; the grave, but the grave for a home, with all its noisomeness felt, all its terrible chillness clasping the heart, all its unseen, its unimagined fearfulness telling on acute and ever wakeful sensibilities. Thus, when you speak of a man’s losing his soul, you do not mean that the soul is taken from him; that he parts with the soul, as is ordinarily meant in speaking of anything that is lost. This were no loss; this were gain--immeasurable, unspeakable gain--to the wicked. But the soul is lost when it clings tenaciously to the body, and “yet would give worlds, if it had them to give, to dissolve the union; when all its powers are lost, but the power of being wretched, or rather are all sunk in that one tremendous and ever-growing capacity. And is it nothing, then, to “save a soul from death”? Oh i the true Christian thrills at the mention of such a deed. No matter whose soul it is--it is the soul of a fellow-creature, the soul of one formed in the sameimage with himself; a soul too, for which the Lord Jesus died, and which, therefore, need not die; the multitude of whose sins may be hidden--hidden from the avenger of blood, because blotted out through the expiation made on Calvary. There is motive, then, enough, in the mere prospect of “saving a soul from death.” Not, however, that he who is instrumental to the conversion of a sinner has no more immediate, personal interest in the event, than would seem indicated by these remarks. We cannot doubt--Scripture will not suffer us to doubt--that he who converts another thereby forms for himself a new spring of happiness through eternity. What says St. Paul to the Thessalonians? “What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” Now we attach peculiar worth to our text, on account of its dealing with single cases of conversion. It is not one of those passages which take a large sweep, and which, therefore, the private Christian, who is not placed in any wide sphere of duty, may consider as scarcely applying to himself. It is but one wanderer who is here spoken of as reclaimed; and it is but a single individual who is instrumental to his conversion. If the text related to conversion on a great scale, as when multitudes are acted on through the preaching of the gospel, it might have been said, that if there were encouragement in the text, it was encouragement for those only unto whom is committed “the work of an evangelist.” But as it is, there is not one of you who may not consider himself as the party addressed by St. James; for there is not one of you, however contracted the sphere in which he may move, unto whom there is not afforded opportunity of acting on some fellow-creature, who is living in estrangement of God, and of endeavouring to prevail on him to “return to the Shepherd and Bishop of his soul.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The conversion of a sinner
These words are so plain and pointed that we can turn to them without any explanation or introduction. One fact, however, is worthy of notice. They were written by James, the direct teacher of daily duty and of Christian practice. It is a mistake to suppose that a sense of morality loosens a man’s hold upon the essential doctrines of Christianity. No one will charge James with being unpractical. This letter is full of stinging, ringing sentences, in which he brands the faith that is “without works” as an accursed thing. Yet it is he who here sets before us the absolute necessity of repentance and conversion as the sum and substance of the whole matter.
I. “THE ERROR OF THE SINNER’S WAY.” There is no doubt about whom James means by “the sinner.” He had in view men and women who, although nominally Church members, paid no real regard to the gospel or to the commands of God. Of such people James says that their way of thought, and of feeling, and of life is an error. Now, this is not the light in which such a man regards his own way. If it were, he would change at once, and cease to be a sinner. On the contrary, it usually seems to him that he would be losing something if he changed, and that his present plan is natural, judicious, and successful. It does not occur to him that be is wandering, erring, going on the wrong road. His error lies in this, that he is not walking in the road in which God intended him to walk, and on which God’s blessing rests. To refuse to lead the life which our Maker intends us to lead is a foolish blunder, because that is the life for which we are best suited. With God, it has not been a matter of mere intention, but of action, of creation, and of endowment, if you saw a man using bank-notes to light a fire, you would be sure that he was committing an error. He might tell you that the banknotes were his own, and that he chose to use them in that way; but he would not persuade you that he was acting prudently. There is a definite value in the notes; and his error would be none the less glaring because he chose to forget their value. There was an Eastern queen, in olden times, who loved extravagance. She took costly pearls, had them ground to powder, and mixed the powder in the wine she drank. No one could interfere; but that fact did not lessen her folly. It is the same with the sinner. He turns to base uses a nature which is fitted for the highest purposes. Capable of true thoughts and pure feelings, and charitable, honourable actions, he wastes his capacity. And, just as in these cases, his choice, his wish, does not make his error less. But there is another and deeper sense in which the ways of a sinner are one great error. He is going in the wrong direction--down-wards instead of upwards, towards the dark land of death instead of towards the bright world of love. In truth, if men were cautious, if they were prudent, if they were wise--there would be no such thing as sin. It is only because we are foolish, and imprudent, and rash, that we choose the way of sin--only because we are slow to learn where our true interest and our safety lie. And yet, thank God, that constantly, every week and every day, sinners are discovering the error of their ways--discovering that they have been blundering, and growing eager to return to God. How marvellous is this steady, unseen work, this descent of the wise Spirit into our hearts--when the young and heedless become serious and earnest; when worldly men and women start, and turn, and live; when hardened sinners, whose blunders seemed to be beyond recall, grow weary of their sins, and see their folly, and stretch out desperate hands for help. It is strange that we should err so grossly; but it is stranger still that, when we confess our error, God is always ready to forgive.
II. JAMES SPEAKS TO US HERE OF THE DEATH OF THE SINNER’S SOUL--“He shall save a soul from death.” Even in this world there is a deadness that comes upon the soul which has long been a slave of sin. Torpor, dulness, and indifference creep over the godless heart till it becomes almost impenetrable. But the form of the words which James uses proves that he is thinking not of the soul’s ruin in this world, but of the Judgment Day, when sinners receive the wages of sin, which is death. It is not only from the Bible that we learn that sin will be punished beyond the grave. This is what we call a truth of natural religion--a truth which men reach by conscience and by reason, apart from revelation, Many of the most fearful descriptions of future punishment have been written by poets and philosophers who knew nothing of our Scriptures, and never heard the name of Jesus. When we turn to the Bible, two glimpses are given us of the future state of the sinner--or rather, two sets of glimpses, two kinds of view. On the one hand, we are told that it will be a time of incessant suffering and of miserable torment. It is set before us under most appalling images--as a fire that is never quenched, and a worm that never dies. If we had only these passages to guide us, we should be forced to conclude that the soul will suffer in some such way to all eternity, But in other passages of the Bible we learn that the sinful soul will be destroyed--that it will be lost, that it will die--as if only good men were immortal. There are some strange expressions which do not disclose their meaning at the first. For example, we read of “everlasting destruction”; that is a common Bible phrase. What does it mean? Does it simply mean that the sinner will be destroyed, never to live again? Or does it imply that the act of destruction will go on always--that the sinner will always be being-destroyed? It is hard to answer, hard to say whether the New Testament, as a whole, affirms the one of these doctrines or the other. Therefore we rather take those two views--the one that the soul suffers continually, and the other that the soul is destroyed--and, when we fail to reconcile them, we must conclude that this is a subject upon which God has not thought fit to disclose the truth to us explicitly. He has left us to the law of conscience, and to that belief in the eternal laws of righteousness and recompense which the revelation of redemption has entwined with our belief in the unity and eternity of God. He has left us to a “certain fearful looking-for of judgment,” and the assurance that we shall receive according to the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or whether they be evil. But beyond this He has given us a truth which underlies those divergent views, and is included in them both. At death the unrepentant sinner is separated from God, banished from His presence, cast away from His gracious sustaining power, and left alone in the vast wilderness of eternity.
III. HE WILL HIDE A MULTITUDE OF SINS. Here we see that the word “sinner” is not a term invented to suit a system of theology, not a fancy figure of some heated pulpiteer, but a real description of lives that men and women actually live. It gives us a definition of a sinner; he is a man who has committed “a multitude of sins.” It implies not one transgression only, nor one offence, but a multitude that cannot be counted, rising, as Isaiah says, like a thick cloud between man and God. It is this infinite unmeasured character of human sin that makes it so hard to persuade men of its reality. If a man steals, or drinks, or ill-treats his wife and children, we can argue with him about his sin, we can expose him publicly or privately, we can try to convince him of his special guilt and special danger. But to go deep down into the heart and point to its pollution, to go away back with you into your past, and lay a finger upon every sin you have committed, to follow you into the watches of the night and the privacy of your homes, and then to present you with a full list of your sifts, and say to you, “There, you have done all these things, all that multitude”--that is not the work of man; the multitude of a single soul’s offences baffles knowledge. It is wonderful how God teaches this lesson--there is a mystery about it--how a man begins to feel that it dries not matter much what his neighbours think about him, and that there is a reckoning which he must make with the eternal justice. Sometimes slowly, but sometimes in a moment, it dawns upon him that every page and every line of the buck of his life must be read aloud. And then, dear friends, when that truth gets hold of us, when we see what a shabby, shameful, damning story it would be, how we should be stung with shame and filled with remorse as one secret sin after another was disclosed, how absolutely helpless we should be to justify ourselves--then we feel how blessed a thing it is to have all “hidden,” all that multitude hidden through God’s great mercy and the merits of our Saviour. Fellow Christians, before we close, notice the beginning of this verse. Read it: “If one converteth.” Read it again. We sinners may convert other sinners from the error of their way; we may save souls from death; we may hide a multitude of sins. God knows it is not easy; but if we are earnest and loving and persistent, He will help us. Remember there are sinners around us, at home, in church, and in the world, and there is no joy so deep, no reward so great as to lead one sinner on the road to God. (A. R. McEwen, D. D.)
Caring for the salvation of others
1. Brethren may err from the truth. There is no saint recorded in the Word of God, but his failings and errors are recorded. Junius before conversion was an atheist.
2. We are not only to take care of our salvation, but the salvation of others. As God hath set conscience to watch over the inward man, so for the conversation He hath set Christians to watch over one another. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you,” &c. (Hebrews 3:12), not only in yourselves, but in any of you. So Hebrews 12:15-16. Members must be careful one of another; this is the communion between saints.
(1) It reproveth our neglect of this duty. Straying would have been much prevented if we had been watchful, or did we, in a Christian manner, reason together with each other; what comfort and establishment might we receive from one another’s faith and gifts I
(2) It showeth what a heinous sin it is in them that watch over each’s hurt; as the dragon for the man child (Revelation 12:4), or as angry Herod sought to destroy the babes of Bethlehem, or a nipping March wind the early blossoms of the spring, so they nip and discourage the infancy and first buddings of grace by censure, reproach, carnal suggestions, and put stumbling-blocks in the way of young converts, and so destroy Christianity in the birth.
3. From that “if any do err.” If but one, there is none so base and contemptible in the Church but the care of their safety belongeth to all. One root of bitterness defileth many; both in point of infection and scandal we are all concerned; one spark may occasion a great burning.
4. From that “and one convert him.” The expression is indefinite, not as limiting it to the officers of the Church, though it be chiefly their work. Besides the public exhortations of ministers, private Christians should mutually confer for comfort and edification.
5. From that “convert him”; that is, reduce him from his error. We must not only exhort, but reclaim. Though it be an unthankful office, yet it must not be declined; usually carnal respects sway us, and we are loath to do that which is displeasant. Well, then, if it be our duty to admonish, it is your duty to “suffer the words of exhortation,” to bear a reproof patiently, otherwise you oppose your own salvation.
6. Again from that “convert him?’ He doth not say destroy him; the work of Christians is not presently to accuse and condemn, but to counsel and convert an erroneous person. Before any rigorous course be taken, we must use all due means of information; the worst cause always is the most bloody.
7. From that “let him know.” To quicken ourselves in a good work, it is good we should actually consider the dignity and benefits of it.
8. From that “he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way.” Before it was expressed by “erring from the truth,” and now by the “error of his way.” You may note that errors in doctrine usually end in sins of life and practice (Jude 1:8). We often see that impurity of religion is joined with uncleanness of body, and spiritual fornication punished with corporal Hosea 4:12-13). In error there is a sinful confederacy between the rational and sensual part, and so carnal affections are gratified with carnal doctrined.
9. From that “shall save.” Man under God hath this honour to be a saviour. We are “workers together with God” (2 Corinthians 6:1). He is pleased to take us into a fellowship of His own work, and to cast the glory of His grace upon our endeavours. It is a high honour which the Lord doth us; we should learn to turn it back again to God, to whom alone it is due (1 Corinthians 15:10).
10. From that “soul.” Salvation is principally of the soul; the body hath its Philippians 3:21). But the soul is first possessed of glory, and is the chief receptacle of it, as it is of grace for the present (see 1 Peter 1:9). Well, then, it teacheth us not to look for a carnal heaven, a Turkish paradise, or a place of ease and sensitive pleasure. This is the heaven of heaven, that the soul shall be filled up with God, shall understand God, love God, and be satisfied with His presence.
11. From that “from death.” Errors are mortal and deadly to the spirit. The wages of every sin is death, especially of sin countenanced by error, for then there is a conspiracy of the whole soul against God.
12. From that “and shall hide.” Justification consisteth in the covering of our sins. It is removed out of God’s sight, and the sight of our own consciences, chiefly out of God’s sight. God cannot choose but see it as omniscient, hate it as holy, but He will not punish it as just, having received satisfaction in Christ: sins are so hidden that they shall not be brought into judgment, nor hurt us when they do not please us.
13. From that “a multitude of sins.” Many sins do not hinder our pardon or conversion. God’s “free gilt is of many offences unto justification” Romans 5:16); and it is said, “He will multiply to pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). For these six thousand years God hath been multiplying pardons, and yet free grace is not tired and grown weary. The creatures owe a great debt to justice, but we have an able surety; there is no want of mercy in the creditor, nor of sufficiency in the surety. It is a folly to think that an emperor’s revenue will not pay a beggar’s debt. Free grace can show you large accounts and a long bill, cancelled by the blood of Christ. The Lord interest you in this abundant mercy, through the blood of Christ and the sanctification of the Spirit! (T. Manton.)
To Sabbath-school teachers and other soul-winners
James is preeminently practical. If he were, indeed, the James who was called “The Just,” I can understand how he earned the title, for that distinguishing trait in his character shows itself in his Epistle; and if he were “the Lord’s brother,” he did well to show so close a resemblance to his great relative and Master, who commenced His ministry with the practical Sermon on the Mount. The text before me is perhaps the most practical utterance of the whole Epistle. The whole Epistle burns, but this ascends in flames to heaven: it is the culmination as it is the conclusion of the letter. There is not a word to spare in it. It is like a naked sword, stripped of its jewelled scabbard, and presented to us with nothing to note but its keen edge.
I. A SPECIAL CASE DEALT WITH. It was that of a backslider from the visible Church of God. This man had been professedly orthodox, but he turned aside from the truth on an essential point. Now, in those days the saints did not say, as the sham saints do now, “We must be largely charitable, and leave this brother to his own opinion; he sees truth from a different standpoint, and has a rather different way of putting it, but his opinions are as good as our own, and we must not say that he is in error.” They did not prescribe large-hearted charity towards falsehood, or hold up the errorist as a man of deep thought, whose views were “refreshingly original”; far less did they utter some wicked nonsense about the probability of there being more faith in honest doubt than in half the creeds. They did not believe in justification by doubting as our neologians do; they set about the conversion of the erring brother; they treated him as a person who needed conversion; and viewed him as a man who, if he were not converted, would suffer the death of his soul, and be covered with a multitude of sins. O God, deliver us from this deceitful infidelity, which while it does damage to the erring man, and often prevents his being reclaimed, does yet more mischief to our own hearts by teaching us that truth is unimportant, and falsehood a trifle, and so destroys our allegiance to the God of truth, and makes us traitors instead of loyal subjects to the King of kings. It appears from our text that this man, having erred from the truth, followed the natural logical consequence of doctrinal error, and erred in his life as well. His way went wrong after his thought had gone wrong. You cannot deviate from truth without ere long, in some measure, at any rate, deviating from practical righteousness. This man had erred from right acting because he had erred from right believing. Every error has its own outgrowth, as all decay has its appropriate fungus. When truth is dominant morality and holiness are abundant; but when error comes to the front godly living retreats in shame. The point aimed at with regard to this sinner in thought and deed was his conversion--the turning of him round, the bringing him to right thinking and to right acting. Alas! I fear many professed Christians do not look upon backsliders in this light, neither do they regard them as hopeful subjects for conversion. I have known a person who has erred hunted down like a wolf. The object of some professors seems to be to amputate the limb rather than to heal it. Justice has reigned instead of mercy. In the days of James, if any erred from the truth and from holiness, there were brethren found who sought their recovery, and whose joy it was thus to save a soul from death, and to hide a multitude of sins. There is something very significant in that expression, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth.” It is akin to that other word, “Considering thyself also, lest thou also be tempted,” and that other exhortation, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” The text gives us clear indications as to the persons who are to aim at the conversion of erring brethren. It says, “If any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him.” It is the business, not of certain officers appointed by the vote of the Church thereunto, but of every member of the body of Jesus Christ, to seek the good of all the other members. Still there are certain members upon whom in any one case this may be more imperative. For instance, in the case of a young believer, his father and his mother, if they be believers, are called upon by a sevenfold obligation to seek the conversion of their backsliding child. In the case of a husband, none should be so earnest for his restoration as his wife, and the same rule holds good with regard to the wife. So also if the connection be that of friendship, he with whom you have had the most acquaintance should lie nearest to your heart, and when you perceive that he has gone aside, you should, above all others, act the shepherd towards him with kindly zeal. You are bound to do this to all your fellow Christians, but doubly bound to do it to those over whom you possess an influence, which has been gained by former intimacy, by relationship, or by any other means. Ye see your duty; do not neglect it. Brethren, it ought to cheer us to know that the attempt to convert a man who has erred from the truth is a hopeful one, it is one in which success may be looked for, and when the success comes it will be of the most joyful character. To bring in a stranger and an alien, and to adopt him as a son, suggests a festival; but the most joyous feasting and the loudest music are for the son who was always a son, but had played the prodigal, and yet after being lost was found, and after being dead was made alive again. Here I would say to any backsliders who are present, let this text cheer you if you have a desire to turn to God. Return, ye backsliding children, for the Lord has bidden His people seek you.
II. A GENERAL FACT. This general fact is important, and we are bound to give it special attention, since it is prefaced with the words, “Let him know.” If any one of you has been the means of bringing back a backslider, it is said, “Let him know.” That is, let him think of it, be sure of it, be comforted by it, be inspirited by it. “Let him know” it, and never doubt it. What is it that you are to know? To know that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death. This is something worth knowing, is it not? If you have saved a soul from death you have introduced it into eternal life; by God’s good grace there will be another chorister amongst the white-robed host to sing Jehovah’s praise; another hand to smite eternally the harp-strings of adoring gratitude; another sinner saved to reward the Redeemer for His passion. Oh, the happiness of having saved a soul from death! And it is added, that in such case you will have “covered a multitude of sins.” Now, remember your Saviour came to this world with two objects: He came to destroy death and to put away sin. If you convert a sinner from the error of his ways you are made like to Him in both these works: after your manner in the power of the Spirit of God you overcome death, by snatching a soul from the second death, and you also put away sin from the sight of God by hiding a multitude of sins beneath the propitiation of the Lord Jesus. Do observe here that the apostle offers no other inducement for soul-winners: He does not say if you convert a sinner from the error of his ways you will have honour. True philanthropy scorns such a motive. He does not say if you convert a sinner from the error of his ways you will have the respect of the Church and the love of the individual. Such will be the case, but we are moved by far nobler motives. The joy of doing good is found in the good itself: the reward of a deed of love is found in its own result. And let us recollect that the saving of souls from death honours Jesus, for there is no saving souls except through His blood. As for you and for me, what can we do in saving a soul from death? Of ourselves nothing, any more than that pen which lies upon the table could write “Pilgrim’s Progress”; yet let a Bunyan grasp the pen, and the matchless work is written. So you and I can do nothing to convert souls till God’s eternal Spirit takes us in hand; but then He can do wonders by us, and get to Himself glory by us, while it shall be joy enough to us to know that Jesus is honoured, and the Spirit magnified. Now I want you to notice particularly that all that is said by the apostle here is about the conversion of one person. “If any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know that he who converteth the sinner from the error of his ways shall save a soul from death.” Have you never wished you were a Whitfield? Have you never felt, young man, in your inmost soul, great aspirations to be another McCheyne, or Brainerd, or Moffat? Cultivate the aspiration, but at the same time be happy to bring one sinner to Jesus Christ, for he who converts one is bidden to know that no mean thing is done; he has saved a soul from death, and covered a multitude of sins.
III. And, now, A PARTICULAR APPLICATION of this whole subject to the conversion of children. Children need to be saved; children may be saved; children are to be saved by instrumentality. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The preciousness of the soul
We cannot but be struck with the contrast between what God honours and that which man deems most honourable. God honours those that save. Man too oft, indeed generally, gives his highest honour to the man that destroys. Thus the warrior has ever been a favourite with society; and yet how terrible is his work! Another man the world honours, less highly, though he is more worthy--the statesman of far-reaching genius, who devises those measures that shall increase general intelligence and happiness, advance the public interest, and make his country’s name to be honoured and feared among the nations of the earth. Society recognises as worthy of some measure of esteem another character, more worthy than either we have named, yet less honoured. We refer to the man of benevolence, who goes forth to improve the condition of society, to raise the fallen, to give new hope to the despairing. Such a man was Howard, who sought to solve the problem, What is the greatest amount of effort a man may make in the cause of humanity? Still higher in merit than the characters named is the man whom God especially honours. He toils not only to improve man’s physical, moral, and intellectual condition, but deems it his great work to save man from sin, from the pollution and corruption of his nature, from those consequences partially manifest in this life, that shall have their consummation in the life to come. He goes forth with burning, self-sacrificing zeal, to save the souls of men. How little does the world honour this class of men! But the honour and greatness of this work of saving men is indicated by the greatness of the change wrought in conversion, through which all who have sinned must pass in order to be saved. How wondrous the change in a soul converted! He was dead in trespasses and sins, lost in error, and in bondage to sin and Satan. Now, renewed in heart and life--changed in opinions, in prospects, in hopes, and associations he is free, and becomes a child of God, a brother of Christ, How marked is this change, they who have experienced it well know, and they also understand it who have witnessed the wondrous transformation in character and conduct of many they have known as sinners and as converted men. Now, the evidence of the reality of this work of conversion to any candid seeker of truth is clear and strong. The evidence to the individual renewed is manifestly and necessarily, from its nature, in his own consciousness. You may go to any community and bring forth the persons that say they have experienced this change of heart. They will tell you they have known what it is to be under the bondage of sin, in fear of the wrath to come, and in their trouble and anguish of soul they submitted to the directions of God’s Word and yielded themselves to Christ. They will affirm that in so doing they found peace; their sense of condemnation was removed, and peace and joy filled their souls. They will tell you that they have the assurance of God’s forgiveness, and the witness of the Holy Spirit that they are His children. This personal testimony will have confirmation in the change in their enjoyments, tastes, and the new rules of conduct to which they have submitted in consequence of conversion. But in this work of saving men the most important point remains for consideration. On whom rests the responsibility of this work of converting men? It is not enough to wish for this work, to feebly pray for it, to think of the obligation of the Church at large, but every single Christian must labour as he has opportunity, and use all his means of influence to secure the salvation of others. The great object of the Church, and of union with it, is not the personal happiness of believers. Happiness is the result of obedience to laws, and misery is the consequence of disobedience. We shall be happy ourselves when we strive in self-forgetfulness to make others happy. While the Church is designed to furnish instruction, assistance, and comfort to its members, it is God’s great instrumentality for the diffusion of the word of life, for proclaiming the gospel unto unregenerate men. It is sinful and absurd for any one to say, “I have not the power to do anything; I cannot speak to any one on the subject of religion.” What other subject is there on which men cannot speak? Will any man acknowledge himself so feeble and humble that he can never speak on business, so modest that he can never say a word on trade? Our excuse that we have not the requisite power to engage in this work is a dishonour to ourselves, and in urging it we dishonour God. When men thus speak, they talk vainly. It is on this account the Church languishes and souls perish. In conversion the human will must yield in order that the Holy Spirit may renew the heart and forgive sins. To secure this yielding of the will of the sinner to Divine grace, family, friendly, and moral influences may avail. God requires that they be sanctified to this use. Have not some of us sad thoughts as we think of those with whom we have been associated, and of our unfaithfulness? Do not scenes rise before us that cause sorrow and anguish? Has no one of our friends or families passed away relative to whose future there is a terrible doubt, nay, perhaps a fearful certainty, if we could entertain the thought? A mother wept for the death of a beloved child. Friends came to comfort her. They offered the usual sources of consolation, such as affectionate hearts yearn to give. But the mother rejected it all. “Ah!” said she, “it is not this. It is not this. I could give up my child. I could bow with resignation over her death. But, alas! I fear she is not saved. It was a foolish diffidence that kept me from talking with her as I oft felt it my duty to do. And when she was stricken with disease, I thought the opportunity would come and I would then improve it. But, alas! delirium came. I bowed by my child. I prayed God, not so much for her life as for one hour of reason, that I might do my duty to my child. But she never recognised me, and I fear she is lost.” Oh I mothers, mothers, do you love your children, and you are living with them in view of certain death, and have you done your duty to seek the conversion of their souls? But there is joy, also, in the thought of being instrumental in saving souls. A missionary sat by the dying bed of his first convert. The dying man said to him, “Brother, I hear you preached a sermon about heaven last evening; I could not go to hear you preach, but I am going to heaven itself, and when I get there I shall go first to the Lord Jesus Christ and thank Him that He ever sent you to tell me of His love; and then, brother, I shall come back to the gate and sit there until you come; and when you come, I will lead you to the Saviour and say, ‘ Here, Lord, is the man that told me of Thy love.’” Oh! Christians, are you willing to walk the streets of heaven and have no one greet you there? Would you be willing to go yourselves inside the gates and never have a soul to greet you and say, “I thank God for the kind words of sympathy and love you spoke on earth?” But while this work of saving souls thus concerns the Church, shall the unconverted be indifferent to their own salvation? Remember, if Christians are unfaithful you are not excused. You know your duty, and, living amid so many privileges, your guilt for the rejection of Christ will be the greater. (Joseph Cummings, D. D.)
One soul worth a great effort
He who is privileged to lead a single soul to Christ does a work compared with which the gathering of crowds and addressing of multitudes is of small account. Let us not despise the day of small things. “You have preached twenty years, and have only made one convert,” was the taunt with which a man assailed a servant of the Lord. ‘, Have I converted one?” asked the minister. “Yes, there is such an one, who is really converted under your ministry.” “Then here is twenty years more for another,” said the man of God, and all eternity would endorse the wisdom of the utterance.
Be slow to despair
It is said of the late Lord Lyndhurst that his saving enlightenment came in his ninetieth year. Not till then did he really bow the knee to Jesus and pass from death to life. Those, therefore, who would be eminently successful in soul-winning must be slow to despair. This is the testimony of one who recently died in the faith of the gospel: “Under God, I owe my conversion to you; not through anything special that you said, but because you never would give up hope of me.” Even if inquirers should turn wholly away from us, we may reach them “by the way of the throne.”
The Rev. Edward Judson, of the Berean Baptist Church, New York, prints the following note at the end of a list of the services of his church
“A Christian man, deeply devoted, and wise to win souls, made it a rule to speak to some one unconverted person every day on the subject of his soul’s salvation. One night, as he was about retiring to rest, he bethought himself that he had not fulfilled his vow that day. He immediately put on his attire, and prepared to go in quest of a soul. But where should he go? was the question. He concluded to make a visit to a grocer with whom he was in the habit of trading. He found him engaged in closing up his store. When the errand of his customer was made known he was surprised. He said all sorts of Christians traded with him--Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc.
but no one had ever spoken to him about his soul. The night visit of his customer and his earnest pleadings made such an impression upon his mind that it led to his speedy conversion. (Sword and Trowel.)
Difficulty of the work
In the Middle Ages a priest and a general were studying, during war-time, the map of a hostile country which was about to be invaded. The reverend father put his finger on sundry places dotted on the map, and remarked, “This fortified town must be taken, and then this, and this.” The soldier broke in, “I may be allowed to remind you, Father Joseph, that fortified towns are not taken with the tip of the finger.” To capture a soul for heaven is a feat upon which we must not calculate unless we are prepared to expend care and pains. (Edward Smith.)
Converting a sinner
At a time of religious awakening at Yale College the students who were decided for Christ agreed that each should visit one of their unconverted class-mates in his own room. One of the results of this action was the thorough decision of David Stoddard, afterwards the honoured missionary of the Nestorians. (Dr. J. P. Thompson.)
The mission of a tract
Some fifteen years ago a young man, a Spaniard by birth, visited Leamington from New:York, and received a tract in the Pump-room, which was given to him casually by a lady. It was one of Canon Ryle’s tracts, and was the means of his conversion. On returning to America, where his parents had taken up their residence, he entered one of the universities, and having been ordained by Bishop Potter, was appointed missionary to the Spanish-speaking people in New York. From thence he went to Mexico some ten years ago, and was presented by the Emperor, Maximilian’s successor, with one of the principal churches in the capital.
He translated the whole of Canon Ryle’s tracts into Spanish, and the result was that there are now 160 Protestant congregations in Mexico, whereas nine years ago there was but one, and 63,000 persons have seceded from the Church of Rome. This was the result of one tract casually given to visitor in the Pump-rooms at Leamington. The title of the tract is “Are you Forgiven?” (The Fireside.)
A telegram was sent back from England by a lady to her husband. She had left New York with all her children, and she landed, shipwrecked, in England, and sent back to him this brief telegram: “Saved--alone.” Ah! that last word seemed as if it took all the sweetness out of the first one. “Saved--alone.” May that never be what we shall have to say as we enter heaven.
How to do it
I have been told that Mr. Moody’s great career as a soul-winner dates from a somewhat exhaustive study of the word “grace.” He had been shut up in his room for days studying this word, until his soul was so full of it that he could contain no longer; so he started out of the house and stopped the first man he met in the street and asked him if he knew anything about “grace.” “What do you mean?” said the man. “I mean,” replied Moody, “the grace of God that bringeth salvation, and which hath appeared unto all men.” And right then and there he began and poured into that stranger’s ear this story of God’s grace, until the man himself was overwhelmed with the greatness of love and yielded himself to God. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
The wide blessedness of love
The phrase is one of those which St. James has in common with St. Peter (1 Peter 4:8). It occurs also in the
LXX. of Psalms 85:2, and in a nearly identical form in Psalms 32:1. The Hebrew and English version of Proverbs 10:12 present a still closer parallel, but the LXX. seems to have followed a different text, and gives “Friendship covers all those that are not contentious.” The context leaves hardlyany room for doubt that the “sins” which are thought of as covered are primarily those of the man converted, and not those of the converter. There is, however, a studied generality in the form of the teaching which seems to emphasise the wide blessedness of love. In the very act of seeking to convert one for whom we care we must turn to God ourselves, and in covering the past sins of another our own also are covered. In such an act love reaches its highest point, and that love includes the faith in God which is the condition of forgiveness. (Dean Plumptre.)
The conversion of sinners
John Bunyan used to say of those places where God had greatly blessed his ministry in the conversion of sinners that he counted as if he had “goodly buildings and lordships” there, and that his heart was so wrapped up in the glory of this excellent work that he counted himself more blessed and honoured of God by them as his spiritual children than if God had made him emperor of the Christian world, or the lord of all the glory of the earth, without it; adding, “Oh! the power of those words in James 5:19-20!” (J. Caughey)
Tholuck’s personal effort for individual souls
The German Tholuck, a household name in the world’s Christian homes, standing on the borders of the grave and looking back on the fifty fruitful years of preaching, teaching, and writing, exclaimed, “I value it all less than the love that seeks and follows,” by which he had been inspired from the year of his conversion. Personal effort for individual souls!” This is a work of which the world knows little, but of which the Lord knows much.” Not only seeking, but following! Here is a single illustration: A. student at Halle was brought near to his heart by a godly mother. He fell into sin and vice. He was ofttimes visited by his loving teacher, late at night or in the early morning, after a night’s debauch--sometimes in prison. Good promises were repeatedly made, and as repeatedly broken. Another sacred promise; the following day, late at night, came a card from him: “Tholuck sighs; Tholuck prays; but we will have our drink out.” Relying upon the co-working Spirit, still the saintly Tholuck followed. And the giddy youth became pastor of a well-known church in Berlin.
The joy of converting a soul
Archbishop Williams once said to a friend of his, “I have passed through many places of honour and trust, both in Church and State, more than any of my order in England these seventy years before; yet were I but assured that by my preaching I had converted but one soul to God I should take therein more spiritual joy and comfort than in all the honours and offices which have been bestowed upon me.”
The Lord’s converts and man’s
On one occasion an Irish evangelist was brought up for creating a disturbance. “How many did you convert?” said the magistrate. “Just two,” was the reply. “Were these all?” “Yes, sir, all I converted, and they were soon as wicked as ever; but the Lord, He converted many more.” Possibly such easy conversions, unattended with much or any conviction of sin, and resting on the acceptance of a mere formula, may have not a little to do with the shallow, easygoing Christianity which is more or less common in these days.
A teacher had among her pupils a young man of wicked habits. At last, when she heard that he was fast going down to ruin, she sought grace and courage from the Lord to speak to him about Jesus. The young fellow was much affected by her earliest, loving appeal, moved, as he knew she was, by love for his soul; and when he had mastered his emotion, he said to her in a tremulous voice,” Had any one ever spoken to me before as you have to-night, I might have been a child of God long ago! But no one has thought me worth saving.” Bishop Wilson says, “We deceive ourselves if we fancy we have done our duty when we have given our people a sermon one day in seven. We must try always to gain a precious soul for Christ.” May His matchless grace help us.
A Welsh minister, speaking of the burial of Moses, said: “In that burial not only was the body buried, but also the grave and graveyard. This is an illustration of the way in which God’s mercy buries sins, No one is at the funeral but Mercy, and if any should meet her on returning from the burial, and ask her, “Mercy, where didst thou bury our sins?” her answer would be, “I do not remember.”
The absence of any formal close to the Epistle is in many ways remarkable. In this respect it stands absolutely alone in the New Testament, the nearest approach to it being found in 1 John 5:21. It is a possible explanation of this peculiarity that we have lost the conclusion of the Epistle. It is, however, more probable that the abruptness is that of emphasis. The writer had given utterance to a truth which he desired above all things to impress on the minds of his readers, and he could not do this more effectually than by making it the last word he wrote to them. (Dean Plumptre.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "James 5". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30