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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
James 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 2-4

DISCOURSE: 2352

THE DUTY OF PATIENCE

James 1:2-4. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

WE at this time are scarcely able to form a conception of the state of the Church in the apostolic age. Christianity amongst us is attended with none of the evils to which the primitive professors of it were exposed. But to what is this owing? Is Christianity altered at all? or is it less offensive than it was in the eyes of ungodly men? No: it is the same as ever: and, if those who profess it be not despised and hated now as they were in former times, it is because they retain “the form only of godliness, and have none of its power.” Let persons enter into the spirit of Christianity now, as the Christians did in the Apostles’ days, and they will be treated precisely as they were, so far at least as the laws of the land will admit of it: and, if they be not persecuted unto death, it will not be from there being any more love to piety in the carnal heart now, than there was then; but from the greater protection which is afforded by the laws of the land, and from a spirit of toleration which modern usages have established. Real vital godliness was then universally hated; and it is so still. It was not to the Jewish converts in Palestine only that St. James wrote, but “to the twelve tribes who were scattered abroad.” Religion was persecuted not by one party only, but by every party and in every place: and it is still, in every place, “to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness:” and all who will cultivate it will sooner or later need to have the consolations of our text administered to them for their support.

In the words which we have read, we see,

I. The appointed portion of God’s people—

In former ages they were hated for righteousness’ sake—

[Go back to the time of Abel. You well know that he was murdered by his own brother Cain. And what was the ground of Cain’s enmity against him? We are informed on infallible authority: “Cain slew his brother, because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous [Note: 1 John 3:12.].” Descend through all successive ages, and you will still find the same enmity subsisting between the seed of the woman, and the seed of the serpent. As light and darkness, so Christ and Belial, both in themselves and in their members, ever have been, and ever must be, opposed to each other [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-15.]. As to the diversity of trials to which the godly have been exposed, we need look no further than to the short summary given us in the 11th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Some were tortured: others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented:” (yes, they were so treated “of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth [Note: Hebrews 11:35-38.].” Come we to the time of Christ and his Apostles: it might be hoped that their superior light and piety, and the innumerable miracles with which their divine commission was confirmed, would screen them from such evil treatment; and especially that the Lord Jesus Christ, whose character was so spotless, and whose wisdom was infinite, should be able to overcome the prejudices of a blind infatuated world. But they were only the more exposed to the taunts and cruelty of the ungodly in proportion as their light shined with the brighter splendour. And all who in the first ages of the Church became their followers, were, in their measure, subjected to the same trials, and made to drink of the same bitter cup.]

The same treatment they meet with in the present day—

[We have observed, that a mere form of piety will pass without opposition: but real, vital godliness, will subject us to reproach at this day, as much as ever: “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution [Note: 2 Timothy 3:12.].” That kind of godliness which arises from self and terminates in self, will bring us into favour with the world: but that which is derived altogether from Christ as its proper source and author, and is exercised altogether for the advancement of his glory, is, and ever will be, odious in the eyes of the ungodly: and a man who exemplifies it in his life and conversation can no more escape persecution than Christ himself could. To receive all from Christ, and to do all for Christ, is the very essence of Christian piety: and in requiring this of his followers, our blessed Lord has bequeathed to his Church a never-failing source of variance with the world. This he himself tells us: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law: and a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” Accordingly we find universally, that where a person begins to live by faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, and to devote himself to his service, all his friends and relatives will take the alarm, and try, by every method of ridicule, or menace, or persuasion, to divert him from his purpose. Let him live in an entire neglect of his soul, and no one will trouble himself about him. He may live his whole life in such a state, and not a friend will exhort him to serve the Lord: but the least approach to piety will be discouraged by every friend and relative that he has. Not that religion will be discountenanced as religion: some evil name must be given to it first; and then it will be reprobated under that character. But the very persons who hold in the highest veneration the names of the Apostles, and of the great reformers of our Church, and who would raise shrines and monuments to departed saints, will persecute the living saints with the utmost rancour: and were the Apostles or reformers to live again upon the earth, they would receive the very same treatment from them that they met with from the people of the age in which they lived. If they called the Master of the house Beelzebub, it is in vain for any servant of his to hope that he shall escape a similar reproach [Note: Matthew 10:24-25.].]

Painful as this portion is to flesh and blood, none need to fear it, if only they attend to

II. The Apostle’s directions in relation to it—

God graciously appoints to his people this portion, in order to promote their spiritual welfare, and progressively to transform them into the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness. Hence St. James exhorts his afflicted brethren to regard their trials as means to an end; and,

1. To welcome the means—

[The proper tendency of trials is to work patience in our souls. At first indeed they operate to the production of impatience, or, rather I should say, to the eliciting of those evil dispositions which lurk in our hearts. Till we have had our pride in some measure subdued, we know not how to bear the unkindness which we meet with: we fret under it, and rage even as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: but when we discover our weakness, we are ashamed of it, and humble ourselves before God on account of it, and implore grace from him to support us, and thus gradually become instructed by the discipline, and are at last “strengthened with all might by his Spirit unto all patience and long-suffering, with joyfulness, giving thanks unto the Father,” who has wrought in us that very change of heart and life which has exposed us to the enmity of the ungodly world [Note: Colossians 1:11-12.].

Now when we see what good our God designs us by these trials, we should not only be reconciled to them, but be thankful for them, and “count them just occasions for exalted joy.” For, what price can be too great for so valuable an acquisition as that of a meek, submissive, and patient spirit? We submit with readiness to many things which are displeasing to flesh and blood for the advancement of our bodily health: and shall we not thankfully take the prescriptions of our heavenly Physician for the health of our souls? What, if they be unpalatable to our taste? We should regard the affliction as good, when we know what benefits will ultimately result from it [Note: Isaiah 27:9.]; assured, that “the sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us [Note: Romans 8:18.].” When therefore we see the clouds gathering around us, we should not be alarmed, but should say rather, like the countryman whose fields are burnt up with drought, Now God is about to refresh and fructify my barren heart, and his clouds shall drop fatness on my soul. What if your enemies meditate nothing but evil? Should that be of any concern to you, when you know who has engaged to overrule it all for good [Note: Romans 8:28.]? I say then with the prophet, “Fear not” any menaces or preparations, how formidable soever they may appear [Note: Isaiah 8:12-13.]; nor complain of any trials, however oppressive they may be at the time; but rejoice in them [Note: Luke 6:22-23.], and bless God who counts you “worthy to bear” them [Note: Acts 5:41.], and accept them as an invaluable “gift at his hands [Note: Philippians 1:29.],” and “take pleasure in them [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:10.],” as knowing that they will assuredly issue in your welfare, and “in the honour of your God [Note: 1 Peter 4:14; 1 Peter 4:16.].”]

2. To cultivate the end—

[Does God design by means of trials to make you resemble him “who was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so opened he not his mouth?” Seek to experience this benefit from them; and “let patience have its perfect work in you, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Complain not that your trials are heavy, or of long continuance: but be more anxious to have your dross consumed, than to have the intensity of the furnace diminished. It was “through sufferings that the Lord Jesus Christ himself was made perfect [Note: Hebrews 2:10.]:” and if “he learned obedience by the things which he suffered [Note: Hebrews 5:8.],” will not ye be content to learn it in the same way? We are ready to think that perfection consists in active virtue: but God is not a whit less honoured by passive virtue: and when patience has so far operated upon your soul as to make you “glory in tribulations” for the Lord’s sake [Note: Romans 5:3.], and you can say from your inmost soul, under all circumstances, “Not my will, but thine be done,” you will have attained that measure of holiness which constitutes perfection; and you will ere long, as a shock of corn that is fully ripe, be treasured up in the garner of your heavenly Father. You have seen “Jesus, after having endured the cross, and despised the shame, set down at the right hand of the throne of God [Note: Hebrews 12:2.]:” be content then to “suffer with him, that in due time you may be glorified together [Note: Romans 8:17. 2 Timothy 2:11-12.].” Let this be the one object of your concern: and pray that “the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus through the blood of the everlasting covenant, would make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight through Christ Jesus [Note: Hebrews 13:20.].”]

Address—

1. The timid Christian—

[“Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man that shall be as grass, and forgettest the Lord thy Maker?” O! “fear not the oppressor, as if he were able to destroy: for where is the fury of the oppressor [Note: Isaiah 51:12-13.]?” Look at Pharaoh and all his host: what could they do against the God of Israel [Note: Romans 9:17.]? Look at Herod, when he would “stretch out his hand to vex the Church:” “he falls a prey even to worms,” which eat him up alive [Note: Acts 12:1-3; Acts 12:23.]. Know that the creature is no more than “an axe or saw in your Father’s hands:” and that he can do nothing, but as your Father sees fit to employ him for your good [Note: Isaiah 10:7; Isaiah 10:11; Isaiah 10:15.]. In all that he attempts, he is limited and controlled [Note: Revelation 2:10.], and shall effect nothing which shall not subserve your eternal interests [Note: 1 Peter 1:7.]. Be strong then, and of good courage: and whatever cross may lie in your way, take it up cheerfully, and bear it after your Lord and Saviour: for be well assured, that your Saviour deserves it richly at your hands — — —]

2. The suffering Christian—

[Shall I pity you? No; rather let me congratulate you as being made conformable to your Lord and Saviour [Note: 1 Peter 4:12-13.]. Repeated are St. James’s declarations, that sufferings for Christ’s sake are subjects rather for joy than for grief. “We count them happy that endure [Note: James 5:11.].” And again, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for, when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him [Note: James 1:12.].” Receive then trials as “the portion which God has appointed you [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:3.];” and expect that, if your afflictions abound for Christ’s sake, “so shall your consolations also abound by Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:5.];” and whatever you may lose for his sake, you shall even in this present life receive an hundred-fold more than you have lost [Note: Mark 10:28-30.], and, in the world to come, “an accumulated weight of happiness and glory” to all eternity [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17.]. And when you shall have arrived at the realms of glory, it will be no grief to you that you “came out of great tribulation;” for then will “your Saviour lead you to the living fountains of bliss, and God himself will wipe away all tears from your eyes [Note: Revelation 7:14-17.].”]


Verse 5-6

DISCOURSE: 2353

THE WAY TO OBTAIN TRUE WISDOM

James 1:5-6. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.

WISDOM is necessary for the due discharge of every office of life: but it is more particularly necessary for a Christian, on account of the many difficulties to which he is subjected by his Christian profession. For no sooner does he give himself up to the service of his God, than his friends and relatives exert themselves to draw him back again to the world. Every species of temptation they lay in his way, if by any means they may effect their purpose, and divert him from the path which he has chosen. They fail not to represent to him, the injury that will arise to his reputation and worldly interests, and the pain which his new course occasions to those whose happiness he is bound to consult. Not unfrequently too parental authority is interposed to arrest his progress, and to interdict the use of such means as he has found conducive to his spiritual welfare. Those books which would best inform his mind, that society which would most strengthen his heart, and those ordinances which would most edify his soul, are all prohibited; and no alternative is left him, but to relinquish his pursuit of heavenly things, or incur the contempt and hatred of his dearest friends. What now must be done? He wishes to keep a conscience void of offence: but how can it be effected? If he is faithful to his God, he offends man: and, if he pleases man, he violates his duty to God. The principle which he adopts is in itself plain and simple; namely, that he must obey God, and not man. But how to apply this principle is a difficulty which frequently involves him in the greatest embarrassment. If he relax in nothing, he appears absurd in the extreme: if his compliances be carried too far, he endangers his peace of mind, and the welfare of his soul. Again, in the manner of executing what his conscience dictates, he is also at a loss. He may be too bold, or too timid; too faithful, or too obsequious. The different dispositions of all with whom he has to do must be consulted, and his conduct be adapted to them in all the diversified situations in which he is called to act. But “who is sufficient for these things?” Often does he wish for an experienced counsellor to advise him; and almost sit down in despair of ever attaining such a measure of wisdom as is necessary for him. It is to persons so circumstanced that St. James addresses the directions in our text. He supposes them to have “fallen into divers temptations,” and to be labouring so to “possess their souls in patience,” that “patience may have its perfect work, and that they may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” But how is all this to be effected? Any mariner may steer a vessel in a calm: but how shall one so inexperienced regulate it in a storm; and so regulate it, that it shall in no respect be driven out of its course? To these anxious questions the Apostle gives an answer: wherein he directs us,

I. How to seek wisdom—

True wisdom is the gift of God—

[Even earthly wisdom must in reality be traced to God as its author. The persons who formed the tabernacle and all its vessels derived all their skill from God [Note: Exodus 36:1-2.]: and even those who move in a sphere which may be supposed to be suited to the meanest capacity, and spend their lives in the common pursuits of agriculture, can no farther approve themselves skilful in their work, than they are instructed by God himself [Note: Isaiah 28:23-29.]. But spiritual wisdom is still farther out of the reach of unassisted reason, because it is conversant about things “which no human eye has seen, or ear heard, or heart conceived, and which can only be revealed by the Spirit of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:9-12.].” It is emphatically “a wisdom which is from above [Note: James 3:17.],” and which can “come only from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning [Note: ver. 17. with Matthew 16:17.].” The Spirit of God, whose office it is to impart it unto men, is called “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord [Note: Isaiah 11:2.];” and to him are we directed “to open the eyes of our understanding [Note: Ephesians 1:18.],” and to “guide us into all truth [Note: John 16:13.]:” since it is only by the unction derived from him, that we can possibly attain a spiritual discernment [Note: 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27; 1 John 5:20. with 1 Corinthians 2:14.].]

To him must we look for it in earnest prayer—

[Study, doubtless, even a study of the Holy Scriptures, is necessary; because it is only by the written word that we are to regulate our course. But to study we must add humble and fervent supplication; according to that direction of Solomon, “If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God: for the Lord giveth wisdom; out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding [Note: Proverbs 2:2-6.].” Accordingly we find the Apostle Paul crying to God in behalf of the Ephesian Church, that “God the Father would give unto them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ [Note: Ephesians 1:16-17.];” and, for the Colossians he prayed, that they also might by the same Spirit “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding [Note: Colossians 1:9.].”

And to seek it in this way we are all encouraged, both from a general view of God’s goodness, and from a particular and express promise.

“God giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not:” “he opens his hand, and filleth all things living with plenteousness;” he “gives alike to the evil and the good, to the just and to the unjust.” If then he give so abundantly to those who seek him not, “will he refuse his Holy Spirit unto them that ask him?” True, they are unworthy of so rich a blessing: and, as Jephthah upbraided those who requested his assistance against the Ammonites, saying to them, “Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father’s house? and why are ye come unto me, now ye are in distress?” so might God reply to them; “Ye have resisted my Spirit, and rebelled against the light, times without number; and how can you expect that I should aid you any more?” But he will not so treat the weeping suppliant; but will surely impart unto him the blessing he desires. Of this he assures us by an express promise: “Let him ask of God; and it shall be given him.” This promise may be relied on, as may many others which he has given us to the same effect [Note: John 14:13-14; John 15:7; John 16:23-24.] — — — The time, and the manner, and the measure in which it shall be fulfilled, must be left to God: but fulfilled it shall be to all who rest upon it. Not that a man shall be rendered infallible, or have such wisdom imparted to him as shall keep him from every degree of error; but so much as his necessities require, God will assuredly vouchsafe to all who seek it of him in sincerity and truth.]

That no man shall seek wisdom in vain, St. James adds a caution, from which we learn,

II. How to secure the attainment of it—

“We must ask in faith, nothing wavering.” Here it will be proper for me to shew,

1. What is that faith which we are called to exercise—

[It has not respect to that individual thing which we may chance to ask; for we may possibly be asking for something which God sees would be injurious to us, or, if not injurious, yet inconsistent with the ends which he has determined to accomplish. When our blessed Lord prayed for the removal of the bitter cup, and Paul for the removal of the thorn in his flesh, neither the one prayer nor the other was granted literally; though both were answered in the way most satisfactory to the suppliants, and most conducive to God’s honour. So the specific thing which we ask, may be withheld: but we shall be sure of receiving something better in its stead: and it is with this latitude only that our faith must be exercised, except where there is an express promise for us to plead: and then we may assuredly expect that very thing to be granted to us.

Now respecting such a measure of wisdom as shall ultimately guide us through all our difficulties, we may ask with the fullest possible assurance: and in asking it, we should have no more doubt of its being given to us, than of our own existence: we should “ask in faith, nothing wavering.” If we doubt at all, our doubt must arise, either from not being fully persuaded of the power of God to help us, or from some suspicion of his willingness. But to limit his power is sinful in the extreme: and to doubt his willingness is, as St. John expresses it, “to make God a liar:” for the promise in the text is to every creature under heaven who asks in faith. I well know that persons pretend to found their doubts on their own unworthiness: but this is a mere fallacy: for every man is unworthy: and, if unworthiness be such a disqualification as deprives a man of all right to expect the blessing in answer to his prayers, then no man living has any right to expect the blessing; and the promise of God is a mere nullity. Our need of wisdom is supposed in the very petition that is offered for it: and the more deeply we feel our need of it, the more willingly and more largely will God confer it upon us. In praying for it therefore, we are to ask, not on the ground of any fancied worthiness in us, but on the sole ground of its having been freely promised to us: and, in that view, we must lift up our hands, “as without wrath, so also without doubting [Note: 1 Timothy 2:8.].”]

2. Its certain efficiency to the desired end—

[In some circumstances, the fulfilment of the promise seems to exceed all reasonable hope, if not the limits of possibility itself. But in proportion as it seems to exceed hope, we are to “believe in hope,” just as Abraham did, when the promise was given to him of a posterity as numerous as the stars of heaven [Note: Romans 4:18-20.]. Our blessed Lord has taught us this in a very striking manner. To his disciples, who expressed their surprise that the fig-tree, which he had cursed, should wither away in one single night, he said, “Have faith in God: for verily I say unto you, that whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto, “What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them [Note: Mark 11:22-24.].” The truth is, that God, if I may so say, feels his own honour implicated in fulfilling his own word: and therefore, if not for our sakes, yet for his own name’s sake, “he will accomplish the thing which hath gone out of his mouth.” Yet not for his own sake only will he do it, but for our sakes also: for, “them that honour him he will honour.”]

Address—

1. Those who are unconscious of their need of wisdom—

[Though men are sensible enough of their ignorance in relation to human sciences, they almost universally fancy themselves competent to decide every thing relating to their faith or practice. But very pointed is that declaration of Solomon, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool [Note: Proverbs 28:26.].” Respecting spiritual things we are all by nature blind, and need, the learned as well as the unlearned, to have our understandings opened to understand them [Note: Revelation 3:17-18. Luke 24:45.]. We all “lack wisdom” exceedingly: and to all equally would I address those words of Solomon, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not to thine own understanding: in all thy ways acknowledge him; and he shall direct thy paths [Note: Proverbs 3:5-6.]” — — —]

2. Those who are discouraged by their want of wisdom—

[If you look either to the greatness of your difficulties, or your own insufficiency to meet them, you may well faint and fail: but if you look to God, there is no ground for discouragement at all. For, can he not “ordain strength in the mouths of babes and sucklings [Note: Psalms 8:2.]?” And “does he not put his treasure into earthen vessels on purpose that the excellency of the power may be seen to be of Him [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:7.]?” See how he reproved Jeremiah, for his desponding thoughts [Note: Jeremiah 1:6-7.]: and be content to be “weak, that his strength may be perfected in your weakness [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.]” — — — See how he reproved Peter also [Note: Matthew 14:30-31.]; and be careful how you admit a doubt. If you are doubting, he warns you plainly, that “you must not expect to receive any thing of the Lord [Note: ver. 7.]:” but, if you will believe, according to your faith it shall be unto you [Note: Matthew 9:29.] — — —]


Verse 8

DISCOURSE: 2354

THE DOUBLE-MINDED MAN EXPOSED

James 1:8. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.

IT is a generally-acknowledged truth, that the mind constitutes the man. In human friendships, an insincere profession of regard will not stand a severe trial; but will fail us, when we most need a firm support. In religion too, if the heart be not right with God, we shall never persevere amidst the difficulties and dangers with which we shall be encompassed. That our faith will be tried, is certain; and that we shall need support from above, is certain: I may add too, that, if we be “strong in faith, giving glory to “God,” we shall derive such aid from above, as shall carry us through all our temptations, how great soever they may be, and make us “more than conquerors” over all our enemies. But, if we are of a doubtful mind, we shall never finally maintain our steadfastness; but shall draw back when dangers threaten us, and faint when trials come upon us; for “the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.”

Let us endeavour,

I. To ascertain the character here specified—

The Apostle is speaking solely respecting confidence in God: to that therefore we shall confine our observations. Were we to enter at large into the character of a “double-minded man,” we should have a vast field before us, sufficient to occupy our attention through many discourses: but by adhering simply to the view proposed to us in the text, we shall best consult the scope of the Apostle’s argument, and the edification of your minds.

“The double-minded man” then is one,

1. Whose reliance on God is not simple—

[There is in every man a proneness to self-dependence: and, in matters of ordinary occurrence, no man, except the truly pious, will look higher than to himself for wisdom to guide him, or for strength to succour him. Even when obstacles arise which call for the intervention of a superior power, he will cry unto his God for help: but he will not “pray in faith,” because he still “leans to his own understanding,” and is unable to “commit his way entirely to the Lord.” As there were in the days of old those who “swore by Jehovah and by Malcham too [Note: Zephaniah 1:5.],” and those who “feared the Lord and yet served other gods” at the same time [Note: 2 Kings 17:33; 2 Kings 17:41.], so the double-minded man will rely on the Lord, but will rely on himself also; and make God and himself successively or conjointly the objects of his hope, as the variations of his mind, or the urgency of his necessities, may seem to require.

We must however distinguish between a prudent use of means, and a divided ground of hope: for confidence in God is on no account to supersede the use of prudent means. Jacob acted wisely in his endeavours to pacify his brother’s wrath, sending presents by many successive messengers, and dividing his family, so that, if some were slain by Esau, others might escape. These precautions sprang not from any want of faith in God, but from a determination to leave nothing undone on his part which might contribute to the desired end. His confidence was not at all in the means he used, but in God, who, he hoped, would accomplish by them the purposes of his grace [Note: Genesis 32:13-23; Genesis 33:1-3.]. But where means are so used as to become a joint ground of confidence to those who use them, there is the evil complained of in the text. Such was the character of the Jews who went down to Egypt for help against their enemies. God had told them, that “in returning and rest they should be saved; that in quietness and confidence should be their strength; and that their strength was to sit still.” But not able to rely on God alone, they went down to Egypt for help, and thereby provoked God to give them up to utter destruction [Note: Isaiah 30:7; Isaiah 30:15-16.]. God is a jealous God, and requires that we should trust in him alone, and have no confidence whatever on an arm of flesh [Note: Jeremiah 17:5-8.].]

2. Whose confidence in God is not entire—

[Not only is there to be no reliance on the creature, but there should be no distrust of God. We should rely upon him without any doubt as to the issue of our confidence. We should view every thing, even to the falling of a sparrow, as under his controul. We should feel that there is no power or counsel against him: and that for man to defeat his purposes, is utterly impossible. We should see, that, if we trust in God, he will accomplish for us every thing that is good; and the things which are not, shall as certainly exist, as if they were already in existence [Note: Romans 4:17.].

But this measure of faith is not in the double-minded man. He cannot so repose his confidence in God. He does not so realize the thought of God’s universal agency, as to be able to commit every thing into his hands, and to “stand still in an assured expectation of seeing the salvation of God [Note: Exodus 14:13-14.].” On the contrary, he is ever “limiting the Holy One of Israel:” and when successive trials arise, he overlooks his former deliverances, and reiterates his wonted apprehensions; like those who said, “He smote the stony rock indeed, that the waters gushed out; but can he give bread also, or provide flesh for his people [Note: Psalms 78:20.]?”]

The character of the double-minded man will be more fully seen, whilst we proceed,

II. To mark his conduct—

“He is unstable in all his ways,” and is ever liable to be turned from the truth—

1. In his principles—

[Not having such clear views of the covenant of grace as to be able to lay hold of it, and confidently to expect all the blessings contained in it, he is ever open to the allurements of novelty, and ready, “like a child, to be tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and the cunning craftiness with which they lie in wait to deceive [Note: Ephesians 4:14.].” Matters which really are of doubtful disputation, possess in his mind an importance which does not belong to them: and he will dwell on them, to the neglect of other things which are essential to his salvation. Hence it is that heretics of every description gain such influence: and hence it is that so many, “led away by the error of the wicked, fall from their own steadfastness [Note: 2 Peter 3:17.].” The versatility both of the one and of the other originates in this, that they have never obtained such a knowledge of God in Christ Jesus as has brought perfect peace into their souls. They know not what God is to his people: they see not to what an extent he has pledged himself to them: they have no conception of the interest which the Lord Jesus Christ takes in them, or how indissolubly connected their happiness is with his honour and glory. Let them be well “rooted and built up in Christ, and established in the faith, as they have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving [Note: Colossians 2:6-7.];” and they will “stand fast in the faith,” and suffer nothing to “move them away from the hope of the Gospel.”]

2. In his practice—

[The man that cannot fully confide in God will be alarmed, whenever a storm is gathering around him. Were “his mind fully stayed on God, he would be kept in perfect peace [Note: Isaiah 26:3.]”; and, when menaced with the most formidable assaults, would reply, “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto me, so that I may but finish my course with joy [Note: Acts 20:24.].” But the double-minded man is so terrified by his adversaries, that he dares not to proceed in the plain path of duty. Like “the stony-ground hearers, he is presently offended, and in time of temptation will fall away.” How many of this description are there in every place, where the Gospel is preached in sincerity and truth! It convinces many; it calls forth many to make an open profession of their acceptance of it: but in a little time how many fair blossoms wither! how many are blown off from the tree by storms and tempests! and how many, through their unbelief, are found rotten at the core! Verily, it is rather the gleanings, than the harvest, that is brought home to reward the toil that has been bestowed upon them; so many “turn back unto perdition, and so few believe to the saving of the soul.”

But it may here be asked, Are we in no case to bend to circumstances? Did not St. Paul himself diversify his modes of conduct, sometimes complying with Jewish rites, which at other times he declared to have been utterly abolished? Yea, was he not of so accommodating a disposition, that he became all things to all men, and acted as a Jew or as a Gentile, according to the society with which he mixed? Yes; he did so: but there is this great difference between his conduct and that of a double-minded man: what Paul did, he did for the benefit of others: but the compliances of the double-minded man are only for the purpose of preventing evil to himself. His compliances too were only in things of perfect indifference: he would not have been guilty of denying or dishonouring the Saviour on any account: but the double-minded man cares not what dishonour he brings on the Gospel, provided he may but escape the evils with which he is menaced for his adherence to it. He is “like the wave,” now raised, now depressed, and driven hither and thither as the wind impels it; whilst the upright soul is as the rock, which, amidst all the storms and tempests that assail it, is unshaken and unmoved.]

Let us learn then from hence,

1. The vast importance of self-examination—

[Men do not easily see their own duplicity. “The heart is deceitful above all things,” and readily persuades us, that our doubtful confidence in God, and our partial obedience to him, are all that is required of us. But God discerns the inmost recesses of the heart, and sees there all the latent workings of worldliness and unbelief: nor will he at the last day approve of any but those whom he can attest to have been “Israelites indeed, and without guile.” As for “the fearful and unbelieving,” he will assign to them no other portion than “the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone [Note: Revelation 21:8.].” O let us fear, lest, after all our profession, “our religion prove vain,” and we be found to have “deceived our own souls [Note: James 1:26.].”]

2. The indispensable necessity of being “renewed in the spirit of our minds”—

[Never, till that takes place, shall we possess “the single eye [Note: Matthew 6:23-24.],” and walk before God in one undeviating path of holy obedience. We may take up a profession of religion; but instability will mark our every step. To rely on God uniformly, and to “follow him fully,” are far too high attainments for the natural man. Let me then entreat you to seek of God a new heart, and to pray that he would “renew a right spirit within you.” Then may you hope to be “steadfast, and immoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord:” and then shall you be fixed “as pillars in the temple of your God, that shall go no more out for ever [Note: Revelation 3:12.].”]


Verse 9-10

DISCOURSE: 2355

THE EFFECTS OF RELIGION ON THE DIFFERENT ORDERS OF SOCIETY

James 1:9-10. Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: but the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.

RELIGION certainly appears in some respects adverse to the happiness of men, inasmuch as it inculcates the daily practice of humiliation and contrition, mortification and self-denial. The injunction to cut off a right hand and pluck out a right eye, cannot, it might be thought, conduce to our comfort in this world, whatever it might do with respect to the world to come. But, if Christianity deprive us of some carnal joys (I should rather say, limit and refine them), it affords abundant ground for joy of a more exalted kind. It does not merely concede as a privilege, but prescribes as a duty, that we should “rejoice evermore.” To persons of every description is this direction addressed in the words before us; and the reasons upon which it is founded are declared. In conformity with the Apostle’s views, we shall shew,

I. The effects of religion upon the different orders of society—

We shall notice them,

1. Upon the poor—

[These are represented as “exalted” by Christianity. Not that they are raised out of their proper sphere, or have any right to assume consequence to themselves on account of their acquaintance with religion [Note: Ignorant persons are sometimes faulty in this respect; but St Paul strongly cautions all, and especially servants, upon this head. 1 Timothy 6:1-2.]: but they are exalted in their state and condition, their dispositions and habits, their hopes and prospects.

The poor are for the most part regarded in so low and mean a light, that a rich man would be ashamed to acknowledge them as related to him: yea, they themselves feel a very humiliating disparity between themselves and their opulent neighbours. But, when once they embrace the Gospel, and are made “rich in faith,” “God himself is not ashamed to be called their God:” he calls them “his friends,” “his sons,” “his peculiar treasure:” “he gives them a name better than of sons and of daughters.” They instantly become “kings and priests unto God;” and the very angels in heaven account it an honour to wait upon them, as their ministering servants. In short, being born from above, they are sons of God, and “if sons, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.” What an elevation is this! Surely, in comparison of it, all earthly dignities are no better than the baubles of children, or the conceits of maniacs.

When elevated thus, the poor begin to feel also dispositions suited to their state. While they are destitute of religion, they either riot in a licentious independence, without any regard to character, or, with a servility unrestrained by conscience, yield themselves willing instruments to any one that can reward their services. But when once they are taught of God, they learn primarily and solely to regard his will. We again say, that they will obey all the lawful commands of their superiors [Note: Romans 13:1-2; Romans 13:4.]; they will regard their authority as God’s, and do whatever is required of them, “as unto the Lord:” but their first inquiry will be, “What does my God require?” and, if urged to violate their duty to him, they will reply as the Apostles did, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye:” “we ought to obey God rather than men [Note: Acts 5:29.].” Nor have they a lower standard of action than the most polished Christian upon earth: if they are truly upright before God, the rule by which they walk is that prescribed by the Apostle [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:21-23.]; and what can the highest refinement suggest more? Here therefore their elevation again appears, inasmuch as their habits are no longer formed by interest or the caprice of men, but founded on, and assimilated to, the mind and will of God.

As to the hopes of the poor, they have little to stimulate their ambition. To provide for their present wants, and to lay up something for a time of sickness, is the utmost that the generality of them aspire to. But what glorious views does religion open to them! Truly, instead of looking up with admiration to the great and opulent, they rather stand on an eminence, from whence they can look down upon them with pity and compassion. What are the prospects of princes, to those which are unfolded to their view? They can look within the vail of heaven itself, and there see crowns and kingdoms reserved for them, yea, a seat upon the throne even of God himself. Who that contemplates this will not say that religion “exalts” the poor?]

2. Upon the rich—

[These religion humbles. It does not indeed despoil them of that honour which is due to their rank; (it rather confirms it to them [Note: Romans 13:7.];) but it humbles them in their own estimation, and in the estimation of others, and in the daily habit of their minds.

The rich are apt to arrogate much to themselves on account of their distinctions; and even before God to entertain high thoughts of themselves: “Our lips are our own: who is lord over us?” But let grace reach their hearts, and they no longer say, “I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing;” but, “I am wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” And so far are they from despising the poor on account of the inferiority of their station, that they most gladly “condescend to men of low estate,” and love them truly as brethren, notwithstanding they are “brethren only of low degree.”

It is scarcely needful to say how much they are lowered also in the eyes of others. Only let them become true disciples of Christ, and it will soon appear that they have lost the esteem of an ungodly world. However wise or amiable they may be, the serpent’s seed will hiss at them. Though David was a king, and as eminent for piety as man could be, he was the sport of fools, and “drunkards made songs upon him.” If any qualities could have insured universal respect, the Lord Jesus Christ would have obtained it. But “he was despised and rejected of men:” and “if they called the Master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household.”

But though the contempt of men was once the most formidable of all evils, they are not much concerned at it now; for they are made “poor in spirit,” and consequently regardless of the indignities that are offered to them. They know what they deserve at God’s hands; and therefore they are willing to bear any thing from those whom He may use as instruments of his indignation or love. They are willing also that God should deal with them in any way he may see fit; and whether he give or take away, they are ready to bless his holy name. They are brought to a state of mind resembling that of a man subsisting upon alms: “they come to their God and Saviour for gold, that they may be enriched; for eye-salve, that they may see; and for raiment, that the shame of their nakedness may not appear.” They are contented, yea they are glad, to seek their daily bread at his hands, and to live altogether as pensioners on his grace and mercy. In short, as in their own estimation they are vile and guilty, so in the habit of their minds they are meek, patient, submissive, and dependent.

Thus, while the poor are elevated by religion, the rich “are reduced and made low.”]

And what shall we say of these diversified effects? Are they represented as adverse to our happiness? No: we are rather led to contemplate,

II. The universal satisfaction which they are calculated to produce—

That the poor have cause to rejoice in their exaltation, is obvious enough—

[Think only what the poorest of the Lord’s people are privileged to enjoy—

First, they have the most exalted of all characters.—Though some few of the Lord’s people have been opulent, the generality have been “a poor and afflicted people.” The Apostles had little else besides a scrip and a staff; they were “poor, though making many rich; and had nothing, though in some respects they possessed all things.” When it pleased God also to send his only dear Son into the world, what was the state to which he appointed him? It was that of a poor man, who “had not where to lay his head.” And has not this dignified the condition of the poor? Yea, have they not reason to glory, in being so assimilated to their Lord and Saviour? The tribe of Levi had no portion allotted to them in Israel: but were they therefore less honourable than the rest? No: the Lord was their portion: and their want of earthly possessions was a favour conferred, and not a privilege denied. Thus it is an honour to the poor that they have their all in God: and though flesh and blood cannot receive the saying, it is really a greater honour to be fed like Elijah from day to day by the special providence of God, than to be living upon stores collected by the hands of men.

Next, they are in the most favourable of all states.—Our adorable Saviour has determined this point beyond a doubt. He has declared, that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven:” “with men,” he says, “it is altogether impossible.” The Rich Youth perished only because he would not sacrifice his earthly possessions: had he been a poor man, he would in all probability have followed Christ, and have been at this moment in heaven. Besides, a rich man is afraid of being thought singular, if he “follow the Lord fully:” he fancies that his situation obliges him to conform to the customs of the world: he is ashamed to associate with the Lord’s people: nor will he suffer any one to deal faithfully with him: but a poor man may follow his own ways, and seek instruction wherever he can obtain it; and nobody will trouble himself about him: his instructor also may, without compliment or circumlocution, come at once to the point, and “declare unto him all the counsel of God.” What an advantage is this for the obtaining of everlasting happiness; and what a solid ground of joy to all who possess it.

Once more; they have a sovereign antidote against all their disadvantages.—Be it granted; they want the benefit of human learning: but they have the teachings of God’s Spirit. They want many earthly comforts; but they have the promises of the living God. “Their afflictions may abound; but their consolations also abound by Christ.” Whereinsoever they may be supposed to labour under any disadvantage, they have every thing that they need, treasured up for them in Christ Jesus; and out of his fulness they receive, in the time and measure which he knows to be best for them. Poor they may be in this world’s goods; but they are enriched with “the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

Now let the poor say whether they have not reason to rejoice. Surely if they estimate their state aright, they may well “rejoice with joy unspeakable and glorified [Note: See Habakkuk 3:17-18.].”]

That the rich have equal reason to rejoice in their humiliation, is, though less obvious, not at all less true—

[What a mercy is it to them, that they are brought to see the vanity of all their earthly distinctions. In their unenlightened state, they have no conception how contemptible those things are, which they suppose to be of such mighty consequence. What is a high-sounding title, or a large estate, to a man that in a few hours is about to launch into eternity? Yet that is the real condition of all: we are like the grass, which by the influence of the sun and rain is brought forth rapidly into gay luxuriance, but by an eastern blast is withered in an hour. Every thing we possess is perishing; and we ourselves also are fading away in the midst of our enjoyments [Note: This is particularly noticed in the text, and amplified in the verse that follows it.]. Ungodly men do not like to reflect on these things; but the true Christian delights to realize them in his soul: and he well deserves our warmest congratulations, who has learned to estimate earthly things by the standard of truth.

It is also a mercy to the opulent servants of God, that they are made to know wherein true honour and happiness consist. That which may be possessed by the vilest, as well as by the best of men, can never constitute the chief good of man. But to be restored to the favour of God, to live in the enjoyment of his presence, to possess his image on our souls, to glorify him in the world, and to be growing up into a meetness for his everlasting inheritance, this is honour, this is happiness: and O! what a mercy is it to see and feel this! Happy art thou, whoever thou art, that hast lost thy relish for earthly vanities, and art brought to set thine affections upon things above!

Finally, it is a mercy past all conception to have for their portion an inheritance that shall never fade. Were they instantly, and of necessity, to be deprived of all they possess, we should still bid them to “rejoice that they were made low:” for earthly riches, however great, are only dung and dross in comparison of the Christian’s portion. Let those who in this life “took joyfully the spoiling of their goods,” say, whether they found any reason to alter their minds, when once they reached the mansions of bliss? How small do their sacrifices now appear, how unworthy of a single thought! Blessed then indeed are ye who are enabled to “forsake all and follow Christ:” even “in this world” he promises you “an hundred-fold;” but what ye shall possess in the world to come “no eye hath seen, or ear heard, or heart conceived.”]

Address—

[But what shall we say, either to the poor or rich, who are destitute of an interest in Christ? Shall we bid them rejoice? What cause of joy have the poor, who, after all their trials and privations here, shall have no part or lot with the saints above? or what ground of glorying have the rich, who will so soon be “lifting up their eyes in torments, seeking in vain a drop of water to cool their tongues?” Should we attempt to console any from a consideration of their present attainments or possessions, the prophet would rebuke our folly, and dash the cup out of their hands [Note: Jeremiah 9:23-24.]. Be it known then to you all, that the poor must be exalted here, if ever they would be exalted in a better world; and the rich must be humbled here, if ever they would attain the true riches. The poor must be made partakers of a divine nature, before they can “inherit a throne of glory;” and the rich must be emptied of self, before they can be “filled with all the fulness of God.”]


Verse 12

DISCOURSE: 2356

THE TESTIMONY OF GOD RESPECTING HIS TEMPTED PEOPLE

James 1:12. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

UNDER the afflictions with which we are visited in this vale of tears, philosophy has suggested many grounds for resignation and submission: but to find in them matter for self-congratulation and joy, was beyond the reach of unassisted reason. To that however are we led by the voice of revelation, which teaches us to look with confidence to a future state, wherein all that we endure for God, and in meek submission to his will, shall be compensated with a weight of glory, proportioned to the trials we have here sustained for his sake, and the spiritual improvement which we have derived from them. St. James, who wrote to “his Jewish brethren who were scattered abroad” through the violence of persecution, frequently repeats this consolatory idea. He begins with bidding them to “count it all joy when they fall into divers temptations.” Towards the close of his epistle he declares this to be at least the persuasion of his own mind; “Behold, we count them happy that endure [Note: James 5:11.].” But in the text he does not hesitate to affirm it as an unquestionable truth, that such persons are truly blessed: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” Now as he spake this by inspiration from God, I shall consider it as a declaration from God himself; and shall unfold to you,

I. God’s testimony respecting his tempted people—

“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation”—

This sentiment doubtless, at first sight, appears very paradoxical—

[How can it be? Consider the state of God’s tempted people. Consider only the lighter trials which they are called to bear for their Lord’s sake: hatred, reproach, contempt, ridicule, the opposition of their nearest friends and relatives; this, every one that will follow the Lord Jesus Christ, must endure: a variety of circumstances may tend to screen a man from heavier trials; but these, in some measure at least, are the lot of all, even of the least and poorest of Christ’s followers, as well as of the most conspicuous among them: let the light but shine even into the poorest cottage, and the surrounding darkness will evince its incapacity to maintain communion with it. But come to the severer trials which thousands have to sustain: think of privations, the most distressing that can be imagined to flesh and blood: think of bonds, and imprisonment: think of death in its most terrible and appalling forms: shall it be said that there is any blessedness in these? Must we not rather say, that the persons who are called to endure such things are in the most wretched state? Yes, I must confess, as St. Paul himself says, “If in this life only such persons have hope, they are of all men most miserable,” and altogether in a most pitiable condition. Nevertheless, whilst we heartily subscribe to this position of the Apostle, we must still say of the declaration in our text, that]

Yet it is most true—

[These sufferings must be viewed in their reference to eternity; and then they will wear a very different aspect from what they do when considered merely in themselves. For, “to those who love him and suffer for him, God has promised a crown of life, which they shall receive” at his hands the very instant that their sufferings are finished. Consider, “a crown!” the highest of all distinctions! “a crown of life!” not a corruptible one, like those which were given to the victors in the Olympic games; nor a temporary one, which is soon to be transferred to a successor;—a crown of life and glory, which fadeth not away! Conceive of the saint as just entering into the eternal world, and ascending to heaven from the flames of martyrdom: what a cloud of witnesses come forth to congratulate him on his victory, and to welcome him to those blest abodes! Behold him welcomed too by his Lord and Master, for whose name he has suffered, and under whose banners he has fought: hear the plaudit with which he is received, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” See the crown brought forth, and put upon his head; and behold him seated on the very throne of God himself, according to that promise, “To him that overcometh, will I give to sit down with me upon my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father upon his throne:” I say, behold these things, and then tell me, whether the prospect of such glory, assured to him by the promise and oath of God, did not constitute him blessed in the midst of all his sufferings? Of the myriads, respecting whom it is said, “These all came out of great tribulation,” do you suppose there is one who regrets the sufferings he once endured for the sake of Christ? Not one assuredly: not one, who does not congratulate himself that he was ever counted worthy to suffer for the Redeemer’s sake. But is St. James peculiar in his sentiments on this head? No; our blessed Lord bids all “who suffer for righteousness’ sake, to rejoice and leap for joy [Note: Matthew 5:10-12.]:” and to the same effect speak all his holy Apostles [Note: Romans 5:3. 1 Peter 4:12-14.]. Though therefore “no suffering is for the present joyous, but grievous,” yet, taken in connexion with their present consolations, and with all the future consequences, sufferings may justly be regarded as grounds of self-congratulation and joy [Note: Philippians 2:17-18.].]

Such then being God’s testimony, I proceed to set before you,

II. Some instructions arising out of it—

There are in our text several instructive hints, which ought not to be overlooked—

1. We should so love the Lord Jesus Christ, as to be willing to suffer for him—

[Love, even amongst men, is of little value, if it will make no sacrifices for the object beloved. But the Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of all the love that can ever be exercised towards him. Consider only what love he has manifested towards us: how he left the bosom of his Father for us, and emptied himself of all his glory, in order to assume our nature, and to expiate by his own blood the sins of the whole world: is it a mere cold esteem that is a proper return for such love? When the terms on which alone he could save the world were proposed to him, he said, “Lo! I come, I delight to do thy will, O God.” When he then proposes that we, in testimony of our love to him, should “take up our cross and follow him,” shall we draw back, and complain that his yoke is too heavy for us? Of what value will he account such love as that? Go, he will say, and “offer it to your earthly friend,” and see whether he will value it [Note: Malachi 1:8.]: how much less then is it suited to express your obligations to me, who have redeemed you to God with my own blood!

It is worthy of observation, that the same person who in the first clause of the text is spoken of as “enduring temptation,” in the last clause is characterized as “loving God:” for, in fact, none will suffer for him who do not love him; nor can any love him without being willing to suffer for him. If therefore we profess love to God and to the Lord Jesus Christ whilst yet we are afraid of bearing the contempt and hatred of an ungodly world for his sake, we only deceive our own souls: for he has plainly told us, that he will consider none as his disciples, who will not take up their cross daily and follow him. He has told us, that, if we are ashamed of him and deny him, he will be ashamed of us and deny us: and that those only who are willing to lay down their lives for his sake, shall ever save them unto life eternal.

I pray you, brethren, try your love to the Saviour by this touchstone: and never imagine that it is sincere, unless it will stand this test — — —]

2. We should so apprehend God’s promises, as utterly to despise men’s threats—

[“Exceeding great and precious are the promises which God has given unto them that love him:” nor is it possible for us to be in any situation, wherein he has not made ample provision for our support and consolation. Now these promises are all sure and certain: “they are all yea and amen in Christ Jesus:” nor can so much as one jot or tittle of them ever fail. But look at the threatenings of man; how empty and vain are they! The whole universe combined cannot effect the smallest thing without God’s special permission: and, if permitted to execute their purposes, how impotent is their rage, when God is pleased to interpose in behalf of his people! Fire could not hurt the Hebrew Youths, nor lions injure the defenceless Daniel, nor chains and dungeons confine Peter on the eve of his intended execution. Men, the most potent monarchs not excepted, are no more than an axe or saw in the hand of God, who uses it, or not, according to his own sovereign will, and for the promotion only of his own glory. “Who then art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of a son of man that shall be as grass; and forgettest the Lord thy Maker?” Besides, suppose man to prevail to the extent of his wishes; what can he do? He can only reach the body: the soul he cannot touch. “Fear not man therefore, who can only kill the body, and after that hath no more that he can do; but fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell: yea, I say unto you, Fear him.” And, as God has promised that “our strength shall be proportioned to our day” of trial, let us rest on his word, and hold in utter contempt all the menaces of our most potent enemies [Note: See Isaiah 37:22.].]

3. We should so realize eternity as to rise superior to all the concerns of time and sense—

[In the view of eternity, all that relates to time vanishes, as the twinkling star before the mid-day sun. If we could suppose a man caught up, like the Apostle Paul, to the third heavens, and then sent down again to abide a few more years upon earth, what would be his estimate of those things which so occupy and enslave our carnal minds? The baubles of children would not be more contemptible in his eyes than the glittering pageantry of courts: and, though the sufferings which are sometimes inflicted on the saints are heavy, they would be reckoned by him as “not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall ere long be revealed in us.” But it is not needful that we be transported to heaven to this end: we have the whole set before us in the oracles of God: and, if we believe those oracles, we may be as fully convinced of the comparative insignificance of earthly things, as if we saw the crown of glory with our bodily eyes, or already tasted of the heavenly bliss. Let us then seek that “faith, which is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.” Then shall we, like those of old, “take joyfully the spoiling of our goods, knowing that we have in heaven a better and an enduring substance;” and, with Moses, shall “esteem even the reproach of Christ as greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt.”]


Verses 13-15

DISCOURSE: 2357

SIN THE OFFSPRING OF OUR OWN HEARTS

James 1:13-15. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

THERE are temptations necessarily connected with the Christian life, and which often, through the weakness of our nature, become the occasions of sin: and there are other temptations which are the direct and immediate cause of sin. The former are external; the latter are within a man’s own bosom. The former may be referred to God as their author, and be considered as a ground of joy: the latter must be traced to our own wicked hearts; and are proper grounds of the deepest humiliation. This distinction is made in the passage before us. In the foregoing verses the former are spoken of [Note: ver. 2, 12.]; in the text, the latter.

In the words of our text, we notice the origin, the growth, and the issue of sin. We notice,

I. Its origin—

Many are ready to trace their sin to God himself—

[This is done when we say, “I could not help it:” for then we reflect on our Maker, as not enduing us with strength sufficient for our necessities. It is done also, though not quite so directly, when we ascribe our fall to those who were in some respect accessary to it: for then we blame the providence of God, as before we did his creative power. It was thus that Adam acted, when he imputed his transgression to the influence of his wife, and ultimately to God who gave her to him [Note: Genesis 3:12.].]

But God neither is, nor can be, the Author of sin—

[He may, and does, try men, in order to exercise their graces, and to shew what he has done for their souls. Thus he tempted Abraham, and Job, and Joseph, and many others. But these very instances prove that he did not necessitate, or in any respect influence, them to sin; for they shone the brighter in proportion as they were tried. But he never did, nor ever will, lead any man into sin. And though he is said to have “hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” and to have “moved David to number the people,” he did not either of these things in any other way than by leaving them to themselves [Note: Exodus 4:21 and 2 Samuel 24:1. with 2 Chronicles 32:31.].]

All sin must be traced to the evil propensities of our own nature—

[“A clean thing cannot be brought out of an unclean;” and therefore no descendant of Adam can be free from sin. We have within us a secret bias to sin; which, however good our direction appear to be, operates at last to turn us from God. That bias is called “lust,” or desire, or concupiscence: and it works in all, though in a great variety of degrees and manner. All sin is fruit proceeding from this root, even from “the lust that wars in our members;” and in whatever channel our iniquity may run, it must be traced to that as its genuine and proper source.]

This will appear more strongly, while we mark,

II. Its growth—

Its first formation in the soul is often slow and gradual—

[“Lust,” or our inward propensity to sin, presents something to our imagination as likely to gratify us in a high degree. Whether it be profit, or pleasure, or honour, we survey it with a longing eye, and thereby our desire after it is inflamed. Conscience perhaps suggests that it is forbidden fruit which we are coveting; and that, as being prohibited, it will ultimately tend rather to produce misery than happiness. In opposition to this, our sinful principle intimates a doubt whether the gratification be forbidden; or at least whether, in our circumstances, the tasting of it be not very allowable: at all events, it suggests that our fellow-creatures will know nothing respecting it; that we may easily repent of the evil; and that God is very ready to forgive; and that many who have used far greater liberties are yet happy in heaven; and that, consequently, we may enjoy the object of our desire, without suffering any loss or inconvenience. In this manner the affections are kindled, and the will is bribed to give its consent [Note: Isaiah 44:20. See this whole process illustrated, Genesis 3:1-6.]: then the bait is swallowed, the hook is fastened within us; and we are “dragged away [Note: These seem to be the precise ideas intended to be conveyed by δελεαζόμενοςκαὶ ἐξελκόμενος.]” from God, from duty, from happiness; yea, if God do not seasonably interpose, we are drawn to everlasting perdition.]

Its progress to maturity is generally rapid—

[The metaphor of a foetus formed in the womb, and brought afterwards to the birth, is frequently used in Scripture in reference to sin [Note: Job 15:35. Psalms 7:14. with the text.]. When the will has consented to comply with the suggestions of the evil principle, then the embryo of sin is, if we may so speak, formed within us; and nothing remains but for time and opportunity to bring it forth. This of course must vary with the circumstances under which we are: our wishes may be accomplished, or may prove abortive: but whether our desire be fulfilled or not, sin is imputed to us, because it formally exists within us: or rather it is brought to the birth, though not altogether in the way we hoped and expected.]

We proceed to notice,

III. Its issue—

Sin was never barren; its issue is numerous as the sands upon the sea-shore: but in every instance the name of its first-born has been “death.” Death is,

1. Its penalty—

[Death temporal, spiritual, and eternal, was threatened as the punishment of transgression while our first parents were yet in paradise. And on many occasions has the threatening been renewed [Note: Ezekiel 18:4. Romans 1:18; Romans 6:21; Romans 6:23. Galatians 3:10.] — — — So that sin and death are absolutely inseparable.]

2. Its desert—

[The fixing of death as the consequence of transgression was no arbitrary appointment. The penal evil of death is no more than the moral evil of sin. Consider the extreme malignity of sin: What rebellion against God! What a dethroning of God from our hearts! What a preferring of Satan himself, and his service, to God’s light and easy yoke! View it as it is seen in the agonies and death of God’s only Son: Can that be of small malignity which so oppressed and overwhelmed “Jehovah’s fellow?” Of those who are now suffering the torments of the damned, not one would dare to arraign the justice of God, or to say that his punishment exceeded his offence: whatever we in our present state may think, our mouths will all be shut, when we have juster views, and an experimental sense, of the bitterness of sin [Note: Matthew 22:12.].]

3. Its tendency—

[We may see the proper effect of sin in the conduct of Adam, when he fled from God, whom he had been accustomed to meet with familiarity and joy [Note: Genesis 3:8.]. He felt a consciousness that his soul was bereft of innocence; and he was unable to endure the sight of Him whom he had so greatly offended. In the same manner sin affects our minds: it indisposes us for communion with God; it unfits us for holy exercises: and, if a person under the guilt and dominion of it were admitted into heaven, he would be unable to participate the blessedness of those around him; and would rather hide himself under rocks and mountains, than dwell in the immediate presence of a holy God. Annihilation would be to him the greatest favour that could be bestowed upon him; so truly does the Apostle say, that “the motions of sin do work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death [Note: Romans 7:5.].”]

Advice—

1. Do not palliate sin—

[Though circumstances doubtless may either lessen or increase the guilt of sin, nothing under heaven can render it light or venial. Our temptations may be great; but nothing can hurt us, if we do not ourselves concur with the tempter. That wicked fiend exercised all his malice against our adorable Lord; but could not prevail, because there was nothing in him to second or assist his efforts. So neither could he overcome us, if we did not voluntarily submit to his influence. All sin therefore must be traced to the evil dispositions of our own hearts; and consequently affords us a just occasion to humble ourselves before God in dust and ashes. If we presume to reflect on God as the author of our sin, we increase our guilt a hundred-fold: it is only in abasing ourselves that we can at all hope for mercy and forgiveness.]

2. Do not trifle with temptation—

[We carry about with us much inflammable matter, if we may so speak; and temptation strikes the spark which produces an explosion. How readily are evil thoughts suggested by what we see or hear; and how strongly do they fix upon the mind! “Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” Let us then stand at a distance from the places, the books, the company, that may engender sin. And let us, in conformity with our Lord’s advice, “watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation.”]

3. Do not for one moment neglect the Saviour—

[There is none but Jesus that can stand between sin and death. Indeed even “he overcame death only by dying” in our stead: and we can escape it only by believing in him. We deserve death: we have deserved it for every sin we have ever committed. Ten thousand deaths are our proper portion. Let us then look to Him who died for us. Let us look to him, not only for the sins committed long ago, but for those of daily incursion. Our best act would condemn us, if he did not “bear the iniquity of our holy things.” He is our only deliverer from the wrath to come: to Him therefore let us flee continually, and “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart.”]


Verse 16-17

DISCOURSE: 2358

GOD THE ONLY SOURCE OF ALL GOOD

James 1:16-17. Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

THERE is much evil in the world. But people are little aware from whence it proceeds. We forget that at the first creation there was no such thing as evil, either natural or moral, in the whole universe. God, it is true, could have prevented the existence of it: and so he could have prevented the existence of the world itself, which only came into being through the operation of his sovereign will and of his almighty power. It is not for us to inquire, why he permitted evil to exist. Doubtless he will ultimately be glorified in all that he has done, yea and, on the whole, in all that he has permitted, though we cannot exactly say how that glory shall accrue to him. All that we, in our present state, are called to, is, to feel and to maintain that he does all things well: that, however he may permit, he does not do evil; but that, on the contrary, all good, and nothing but good, is to be ascribed to him.

Now it is of great importance that we should, at least as far as regards ourselves, have just views of this matter, since for want of them we greatly err. So the Apostle evidently intimates in the words which we have read: from whence I will take occasion to shew,

I. The true character of the Deity—

He is here declared to be the only, and the unchanging source of all good—

1. He is the only source of all good—

[The sun in the material world may properly be called “the father of lights,” because there is no light but what proceeds from him. The moon and stars only reflect the light which they receive from him. Thus is God to the whole creation the only source of light and life. There is no “good and perfect gift,” but proceeds from him. In nature, all the worlds were framed by him, and every thing in them was fitted for its peculiar use, and for the benefit of the whole. In providence, every thing is ordered with unerring wisdom to sub-serve the designs of God, and to accomplish his holy will, yea, and ultimately to further the welfare of all his chosen people — — — In grace this appears in a still more striking point of view. Every good disposition is formed by him in the heart of man, which, without the agency of his Spirit, would continue one entire and unaltered mass of corruption through all eternity. If we either will or do any thing that is good, it is in consequence of his electing love and sovereign grace [Note: Philippians 2:12-13.] — — —]

2. He is the unchanging source of all good—

[If in the communication of good he in some respects resembles the sun, he in other respects differs widely from it. The sun, though the fittest emblem that we have of immutability in dispensing good, has yet its changes, both annual and diurnal, and at different seasons of the day and year, casts its shadows in a widely different form, according to the quarter in which it shines, and to its position in our hemisphere, as more vertical or horizontal. But not so Jehovah, the Father of all heavenly lights. There are no changes with him [Note: Malachi 3:6.]. “With him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” To his believing people he is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever [Note: Hebrews 13:5; Hebrews 13:8.].” True, his light may be intercepted by a cloud: but he himself remains the same: and let only the cloud be dispelled, and he will shine as bright as ever on the believing soul — — —]

Now that you may see how important this view of the Deity is, I beg you to notice,

II. The errors we run into for want of duly adverting to it—

We err exceedingly,

1. In a way of self-vindication—

[This is the precise point to which St. James directs our attention. After saying, “Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil; neither tempteth he any man: but every man, when he is tempted, is drawn away of his own lust and enticed;” he adds, “Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning:” Evil is from yourselves, and from yourselves alone: good, and only good, is from God.

Now you cannot but know, that, like our first parents, we are ever ready to exculpate ourselves, and to cast the blame of our sins, either on the tempters that led us to them, or on the propensities which God himself has implanted in us. But in both of these cases we do, in fact, cast the blame on God, as either immediately or remotely the cause of the evils we commit. But beware of all excuses, be they what they may. The fault is all your own, and nothing but humiliation and contrition will become you to the latest hour of your lives — — — If ever you perish, you will have none but yourselves to blame.]

2. In a way of self-dependence—

[We are ever prone to look for some good in ourselves, instead of seeking all good from God alone. But it is in vain to rely on any wisdom of our own to guide us, or strength of our own to support us, or righteousness of our own to justify us. Satan himself may as well look for these things in himself as we: and it is on this account that God has been “pleased to treasure up in his dear Son a fulness of them, that we may receive them all from him” from day to day, and from hour to hour. Know ye this, that in yourselves “ye are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked;” and “from Christ alone can ye ever receive raiment to cover you, or gold to enrich you, or the eye-salve” that shall administer healing to your organs of vision. “All your fresh springs must be in God,” even in God alone — — —]

3. In a way of self-applause—

[We are no less prone to take to ourselves credit from what is good, than to shift off from ourselves blame in what is evil. But “if we differ from others or from our former selves, who is it that has made us to differ? or what have we that we have not received from God himself?” As well might the earth boast of its fertility independently of the sun, whose genial rays have called it forth, as we arrogate to ourselves honour on account of any good that we have ever done. If you would see what the earth would be independent of the sun, go to the polar regions in the depth of winter. And, if you would see what you yourselves would be independent of God, go down to that place where God never comes by the operations of his grace, and where the damned spirits are left without controul. If there be any good in you, it is from Christ that you have received it: for “without him you could do nothing.” If you have attained to any thing more than ordinary, you must say, “He that hath wrought me to the self-same thing is God.” Even if you equalled the Apostle Paul in holiness, you must say, “By the grace of God I am what I am;” and in reference to every individual act, “It was not I, but the grace of God that was with me [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:10.].”]

Application—

Do not err then, my beloved brethren”—

[Be aware of your tendencies; and remember how to correct them. You never can err in taking shame to yourselves: nor can you ever err in giving glory to God. But if you arrogate any thing to yourselves, you will rob God: and, in robbing him, you will eventually, and to your utter ruin, rob yourselves.”]


Verse 18

DISCOURSE: 2359

REGENERATION—ITS AUTHOR, MEANS, AND END

James 1:18. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.

THERE is an evil in the world so monstrous and so horrible, that one can scarcely conceive how it should ever be committed; namely, the ascribing unto God our own iniquities, and tracing them to him as their proper author. Yet is this the common refuge of sinners; who, when led captive by their own lusts, excuse themselves by averring, that no criminality can attach to the indulgence of passions which God himself has given them. But St. James protests against this impiety, and declares, that “God tempteth no man; but that every man who yields to temptation, is drawn away and enticed by his own lust [Note: ver. 13, 14.].” Another evil also he sets himself to counteract, namely, the tracing of good to ourselves, as though it originated with us as its proper authors. This, though it does not shock our feelings so much as the former does, yet is of the same nature with it, and no less offensive in the sight of God: for, whilst the former sentiment makes God the cause of evil, the latter denies him to be the cause of good. But on this subject also St. James rectifies our views; assuring us, that, as all light proceeds from the sun, so does “every good and perfect gift come down from above, even from God the Father of lights.” We may indeed have great changes, as from day to night, or from summer to winter: but these arise from ourselves only; for “with him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning;” and, if we have less abundant communications from him at one time than another, it is owing to the change of our position with respect to him, and to our temporary departure from him. If, on the contrary, a spiritual change has taken place in any of us, so that we have been born again, it is because “he begat us with the word of truth;” and begat us, not on account of any merit in us, but purely “of his own will,” and “to the praise of the glory of his own grace.”

In this assertion of the Apostle the whole subject of regeneration or conversion comes before us: and we shall be led to mark,

I. The source from whence it flows—

It is not from man—

[Man has neither power nor inclination to convert himself truly and thoroughly to God. If only we consider what is said in the Scriptures respecting the extreme weakness of man in relation to every thing that is spiritually good,—that “without Christ he can do nothing;” that “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost;” and that “we are not of ourselves sufficient even to think any thing that is good;” that our sufficiency even for that is of God alone,—how can it be thought that we should be able to “put off the old man and to put on the new,” and to “renew ourselves in the spirit of our minds after the image of our God in righteousness and true holiness?” The very terms in which this change is spoken of, as a resurrection, a new birth, a new creation, clearly import, that it is beyond the power of man to effect it in himself. We need go no further than to the image used in the text itself, to shew the utter absurdity of any such idea. Nor have any others a power to effect it in us: for man can only address himself to our outward senses: he has no access whatever to our hearts; he can therefore never accomplish in us so great a work, as that of “giving us a new heart, and renewing a right spirit within us.”

Nor has any man the inclination thus to renew himself. Let us look around, and see what is the state of mankind at large. Are they mourning over their degeneracy and corruption? Are they panting after holiness? Are they using the means which are confessedly within their reach? Are they thankful for every aid they can receive, and for every instruction by which their good desires may be furthered? If you think they are, take your Bible with you, and go to all your neighbours and proffer your assistance to them, and solicit a reciprocal aid from them: act as if you all were shipwrecked, and all were anxious for their own personal welfare, and for the welfare of those around them. Do this, and you will soon see how much inclination men have for a thorough conversion of their souls to God.]

It is from God, and from God alone—

[This we are not left to determine by any fallible reasonings of our own: it is decided for us by God himself; who, speaking of all who received the Lord Jesus Christ, and thereby received power to become the sons of God, says, “They were born, not of blood (or in consequence of their descent from any particular parents), nor of the will of the flesh (that is, from any good desires of their own), nor of the will of man (that is, from the kind efforts of others), but of God [Note: John 1:12-13.].” It is God alone who makes one to differ from another [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.]: it is “God alone who gives us either to will, or to do [Note: Philippians 2:13.],” what is good: and “He who is the Author, is also the Finisher [Note: Hebrews 12:2. How all this accords with the doctrines of the Church of England, may be seen by referring to our Articles and Liturgy:—In our Liturgy we thus address the Deity: “O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed.” And the tenth Article runs thus: “The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will.”],” of all that can issue in a man’s salvation.]

But as God is pleased to use means and instruments in this work, I will proceed to shew,

II. The means by which it is effected—

It becomes not us to restrict God in the use of means. We know that he frequently makes use of affliction, and of conversation; and we will not presume to say that he never employs even dreams or visions for the attainment of his ends: we know assuredly that he has done so in former times; and therefore he may do so at this time (we confess, however, that we are not partial to any thing arising out of such means: we are always fearful that they will issue in something transient and delusive: we prefer infinitely what proceeds from causes more rational, and more tangible, and more consonant with the dispensation under which we live); but we are not at liberty to limit God to any particular mode of communicating his blessings to mankind. Of one thing however we are sure (and that will effectually cut off all occasion for enthusiastic delusions); namely, that whatever means God makes use of to bring the soul to a consideration of its state, it is “by the word of truth” alone that he savingly converts it to himself. By other means he may call our attention to the word; but by the word only does he guide us to the knowledge of his truth, and to the attainment of his salvation.

By the word he begins the good work within us—

[It is from thence alone that we attain the knowledge of our fallen state — — — From thence alone can we learn the way of salvation through a crucified Redeemer — — — From thence alone can we derive encouragement to lay hold on the hope that is set before us: for the only legitimate object of faith is the word of God; and “without faith, so grounded, we cannot possibly please God [Note: Hebrews 11:6.].”]

By the word also he carries it on, and perfects it, within us—

[“The word is that unadulterated milk by which the new-born babes must grow [Note: 1 Peter 2:2.].” And, whatever degrees of sanctification are produced in us at a more advanced period, they are effected by the same divine instrument; as St. Paul has said: “Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish [Note: Ephesians 5:26-27.].” Hence our blessed Lord, when praying for his Church, said, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth [Note: John 17:17.].” Not that the word has this power in itself: for thousands both hear and read it without deriving any benefit from it to their souls. It is “the sword of the Spirit [Note: Ephesians 6:17.];” and effects no more than what He who wields it sees fit to accomplish. If it “come in word only,” it is of no weight at all: but when it “comes in demonstration of the Spirit and of power [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:13.],” then “it effects all for which God himself has sent it [Note: Isaiah 55:10-11.]:” and “through him is mighty to the pulling down of all the strong-holds [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.]” of sin and Satan.]

Thus is the whole work of grace wrought within us: and a blessed work it will appear, whilst we shew,

III. The end for which it is wrought—

The contemplation of this may well reconcile us to all that has been said about the sovereign will of God. The ground on which men are so jealous of the Divine sovereignty is, that they think it leads to a disregard of holiness; since, if God have chosen men to salvation, they shall attain it without holiness; and if he have not chosen them to salvation, they can never be saved, how holy soever they may be. But this is altogether an erroneous statement. God is not so regardless of holiness as this supposes: on the contrary, if he elect any, it is “that they may be holy, and without blame before him in love [Note: Ephesians 1:4.];” and, if “he beget any with the word of truth,” it is “that we may be to him a kind of first-fruits of his creatures”—

[The “first-fruits” were, by God’s own appointment, holy; so that every one was bound to consecrate them unto him [Note: Deuteronomy 18:4.]. In like manner are God’s people to be holy, and altogether devoted to his service. They are on no account to imagine themselves at their own disposal: “They are God’s; and must glorify him with their body and their spirit, which are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.].”

It is not to salvation only that God ordains his people; but to sanctification, as the way to, and the preparation for, the blessedness of heaven [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13.]. “He has chosen them out of the world [Note: John 15:19.],” from which “they are to be separated [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:17.],” as the first-fruits are from the remainder of the harvest. Being “a chosen generation, they are to be a peculiar people [Note: 2 Peter 2:9.],” “zealous of good works [Note: Titus 2:14.].” To this “the word of truth” bears testimony in every part. To think that God should “beget” any person by his word and Spirit, and leave him at liberty to be a servant of sin and Satan, is a thought from which one revolts with utter abhorrence. Thus at least did St. Paul: “Is Christ the minister of sin? God forbid [Note: Galatians 2:17.].” “Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid [Note: Romans 6:15.].” “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid [Note: Romans 6:1-2.].” “God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness:” and, whatever men may say respecting God’s “will” in ordaining us to life, or respecting our relation to him as his children, “begotten of him,” this is a truth that must never for one moment be questioned, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord [Note: Hebrews 12:14.].”]

See then that you,

1. Value the ordinances of God—

[The word is doubtless to be read with care and diligence at home: for, as we have said, it is the food of God’s new-born offspring, and the great medium by which he communicates his blessings to the soul. But it is through the ministry of that word that God chiefly works. He will bless those who read it in their own houses: but he will bless also, and more abundantly, those who at the same time attend upon the ministration of it by those whom he has sent to speak in his name; for “he loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” Let not any think light of the ordinances, because the persons who dispense them are weak as other men: for “God has put his treasure into earthen vessels, on purpose that the excellency of the power may the more manifestly appear to be of him.” If indeed men look to the instrument, they will meet with nothing but disappointment: but if they will look through the instrument to God, they shall find the “word as quick and powerful [Note: Hebrews 4:12.]” as ever, and shall experience it to be “the power of God unto their everlasting salvation [Note: Romans 1:16.].” There is no blessing which God will not dispense to them by means of it — — — Nor, if only they mix faith with what they hear [Note: Hebrews 4:2.], shall their most enlarged expectations of “profit” ever be disappointed.]

2. Labour to improve them for their destined end—

[Sanctification, as you have heard, is that for which both the word and ordinances are to be improved. Examine then yourselves by what you hear, that you may find out every defect in your obedience; and keep in remembrance both the precepts and examples that are set before you, that so you may attain to the highest degrees of holiness, and “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God [Note: Colossians 4:12.].” You know, that to appropriate any of the first-fruits to a common use would have been sacrilege: beware then lest the world rob God of any measure of those services which are due to him alone. You are to be his wholly and altogether: “your bodies are to be his,” and “your members instruments of righteousness unto him [Note: Romans 6:13.].” Your souls, with all their faculties, are to be his also; his temple, wherein he is to reside; his throne, wherein he is to reign: “your whole body, soul, and spirit are to be sanctified wholly unto him [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:23.]:” you are to be altogether “a living sacrifice unto him:” and this is no other than “your reasonable service [Note: Romans 12:1.].” And, as it is by this only that you can make a due improvement of ordinances, so it is by this only that you can have in your own souls any evidence that you are born of God. As for others, they can form no judgment at all of you, but by your works. The rule for them to judge by, is this: “He that committeth sin is of the devil: whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed, namely, the word of God, abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God [Note: 1 John 3:8-9. “The seed” in this passage means the word: see 1 Peter 1:23 and 1 John 2:14.].” Press forward then for the highest attainments, that, “being blameless and harmless, and without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, ye may shine as lights in the world, and approve yourselves indeed to be the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty [Note: Philippians 2:15-16.].”]


Verse 25

DISCOURSE: 2360

THE REWARD OF OBEYING THE GOSPEL

James 1:25. Whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

A PROFESSION of religion without the practice of it will avail us little. Obvious as this truth is, it needs to be frequently insisted on. Even in the Apostle’s days there were many who “professed to know God, while in works they denied him.” St. James wrote his epistle with a more immediate view to such persons. He tells them plainly that they only “deceive their own selves [Note: ver. 22.]:” but affirms with equal confidence that the practical Christian shall be blessed.

We shall consider,

I. The Apostle’s description of the Gospel—

The Gospel is generally thought to be a mere system of restraints—

But it is, in truth, a “law of liberty”—

[It finds us under a worse than Egyptian bondage; and proclaims liberty from our oppressive yoke [Note: Isaiah 61:1.]. It offers pardon to those who are under the condemnation of the law; and freedom from sin to those over whom it has had dominion. It rescues us from the captivity in which Satan has held us; it breaks the fetters whereby the world has retained its ascendency over us; and opens the way for the unrestrained observance of holy duties. It is to captive sinners, what the jubilee-trumpet was to the enslaved Jews [Note: Leviticus 25:9-10.]; and effects for the imprisoned soul what the angel wrought for Peter [Note: Acts 12:7-10.]. This liberty however it proclaims with the authority of a “law.” It does not merely offer what we may alter or reject: it is properly called by the Apostle “the law of faith.” It prescribes the only possible method of obtaining salvation; it declares that all attempts to find out another will be vain [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:11.]; and it enjoins us to embrace this at the peril of our souls [Note: 1 John 3:23.].]

It is justly called a “perfect” law of liberty—

[Nothing can be added to it to render it more effectual: neither ceremonial nor moral duties can at all improve Christ’s finished work [Note: Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4.]. It will be utterly made void also, if any thing be taken from it. The blood of Christ, not any work of ours, must be regarded as the price of our redemption [Note: 1 Peter 1:18-19.]; and the liberty itself must be received as the gift of God through faith [Note: Ephesians 2:8.]. The Gospel is perfect also with respect to its effects upon the conscience. The Mosaic sacrifices were little more than remembrances of sins [Note: Hebrews 10:3.]; but in the Gospel we have a sacrifice that takes away our sin [Note: John 1:29.]. The soul, once purged by the Redeemer’s blood, is cleansed for ever [Note: Hebrews 10:14.]; and, once freed by his almighty grace, is free indeed [Note: John 8:36.]!]

This beautiful view of the Gospel will easily account for,

II. The regard which the Christian pays to it—

A man immured in a dungeon, would not treat with indifference a proclamation of pardon; nor can he who is in earnest about salvation, disregard the Gospel—

He endeavours to understand it—

[He does not inspect it to gratify a foolish curiosity: he searches into it with care and diligence. Like the Ber ζans of old, he maturely weighs its declarations [Note: Acts 17:11.], and “proves all things in it, that he may hold fast that which is good.” Even the angels themselves desire to investigate its mysteries: much more does he, who feels so great an interest in its contents. Nor does he do this in a transient manner, but with persevering diligence [Note: It is worthy of observation that as St. Peter, speaking of the angels, uses the word παρακύψαιin reference to the bending posture of the cherubims that were over the ark, 1 Peter 1:12; so St. James, speaking of the Christian, uses both παρακύψαςand παραμείνας, in reference to the continuance of the cherubims in that posture. The ark was an eminent type of Christ; in it was contained the law; and over it was placed the mercy-seat: overshadowing all, were the cherubims of glory; Hebrews 9:4-5. These things were typical of evangelical truths; Hebrews 10:1. They represented God as reconciled to us through Christ, by whom the law was kept inviolate: compare Psalms 40:7-8. with Hebrews 10:7. And the cherubims represented, not angels only, but men also, as contemplating and searching into this stupendous mystery.].]

He labours also to obey it—

[What he hears or reads is not suffered to escape his memory: he at least “gives earnest heed to it, lest at any time he should let it slip.” He cannot be satisfied to “see his face in a glass, and presently to forget what manner of man he was [Note: ver. 23, 24.].” he desires to have the word engraven on his heart, and transcribed into his life. When he hears of liberty, he feels a solicitude to obtain it; or, having obtained it, he strives to honour his almighty Deliverer. He is well aware that his pretensions to faith must be supported by a suitable life and conversation [Note: James 2:17-20.]; and it is his determination, through grace, to shew forth his faith by his works.]

That he does not find it vain to serve God, will appear by considering,

III. The reward which he ensures to himself thereby—

The world suppose that the service of God is irksome and unprofitable; but the Christian can attest the contrary from his own experience—

In the very act of obeying he finds a rich reward—

[He can adopt, in reference to the law, the declaration of St. Paul [Note: Romans 7:22.]—. However strict the commandments be, he does not account them grievous [Note: 1 John 5:3.]: on the contrary, he feels “the ways of religion to be pleasantness and peace [Note: Proverbs 3:17.].” His deliverance from impetuous passions is no small source of happiness: his exercise of benevolent affections greatly tranquillizes his mind [Note: Isaiah 32:17.]. The testimony of his own conscience is a rich and continual feast [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:12.]. Moreover God himself will vouchsafe to him delightful tokens of his approbation. He will shed abroad his love in the hearts of his faithful servants; He will lift upon them the light of his applauding countenance; and “seal them with the Spirit of promise, as the earnest of their inheritance.” Thus, in the most literal sense, is that expression realized [Note: Psalms 19:11.]; and the description, alluded to in the text, is abundantly verified [Note: Psalms 1:1-3.].]

A still more glorious recompence also awaits him in the future world—

[Many are extremely cautious of asserting this truth. They are afraid lest they should be thought to be advocates for the doctrine of human merit; but there is no truth more clear than that our works shall be rewarded [Note: Romans 2:6.]. Nor does this at all interfere with the doctrines of grace. Our persons and our services are equally accepted through Christ [Note: 1 Peter 2:5.], and our happiness will be altogether the gift of God for his sake: but our works will assuredly be the measure of our reward [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:8.], and we may with propriety be stimulated by the hope of a future recompence [Note: Hebrews 11:26.]. Let the Christian then know, that not the meanest of his services shall be forgotten [Note: Matthew 10:42.]; but that his weight of glory shall be proportioned to his services [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17.].]

Address—

1. The inconsiderate hearers—

[It is obvious that many hear the word without receiving any saving benefit. This is owing to their own carelessness and inattention. They are like the way-side hearers, from whom Satan catches away the word [Note: Matthew 13:19.]; but such hearers do not merely lose the blessings which the faithful Christian obtains. If the word be not “a savour of life, it becomes a savour of death, to their souls.” O that all would remember the admonition once given to the Jews [Note: John 12:48.]—. Thus should they know the truth, and the truth should make them free [Note: John 8:32.].]

2. The practical hearers—

[You have been brought from bondage to liberty, from darkness to light; and, doubtless, you experience the blessedness of doing the will of God. “Stand fast then in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free;” “and be not entangled again with any yoke of bondage.” Shew that you consider God’s service as perfect freedom. Seek to have your very “thoughts brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:5.].” Thus shall your “peace flow down like a river;” and abundant treasures be laid up for you in the heavenly kingdom [Note: Matthew 6:20.].]


Verse 26

DISCOURSE: 2361

SELF-DECEIT EXPOSED

James 1:26. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this mans religion is vain.

IF there be persons in the present day who pervert the doctrines of the Gospel, and take occasion from them to depreciate morality, we must not wonder at it, since this evil obtained to a very great extent even in the apostolic age. It was with a view to persons of this description chiefly that St. James wrote this practical and vituperative epistle. It is evident that the Christian temper was too much overlooked by many who professed themselves followers of Christ. There were many who loved to hear the Gospel, but neglected to comply with its injunctions. In particular, they would give a very undue licence to their tongues, indulging themselves in most uncharitable censures of each other; whilst in the opinion of their own party, and in their own estimation, they stood high as “saints of the Lord.” But, in the words which we have read, the Apostle James declared plainly to them, that they “deceived their own souls,” and that “their religion was vain.”

In this declaration we may see,

I. The proper office of religion in the soul—

Religion is not intended to fill the mind with notions, but to regulate the heart and life—

1. As admitted into the soul, it brings us under the authority of God’s law—

[Previous to our reception of the Gospel, we know no other rule of conduct than that of our own will, or the opinions of the world around us. But when we have “received the truth as it is in Jesus,” we see that God is a Sovereign who must be obeyed; and that his law is to be a rule of action to all his creatures. His law extends not to outward actions only, but to the thoughts and desires of the heart; over which it exercises a complete controul. We now begin to see, that the requirements of that law, in their utmost extent, are all “holy, and just, and good;” precisely such as it became Jehovah to enact, and such as it is our truest happiness to obey. The mere circumstance that it has been spoken by the Lord, is quite sufficient to give it, in all cases, a paramount authority: nor are the customs or opinions of the whole world, however long or universally established, accounted of any weight in opposition to it — — —]

2. As operating in the soul, it disposes and qualifies us to obey that law—

[The Gospel duly received, does not merely convince the judgment, but engages the affections; and at the same time that it gives a new taste, it imparts a vital energy; whereby we are enabled to “put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and to put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” It is an engine of vast power: it is “mighty through God to the pulling down of the strong-holds of sin and Satan: it casts down all towering imaginations, and every thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God; and brings into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.].”

Now all this is implied in the text. It is taken for granted, that religion, duly operating, will enable us to “bridle the tongue.” But, to regulate the tongue, we must of necessity “keep and rectify the heart,” since “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh [Note: Matthew 12:34.].” If therefore the not bridling of the tongue argues our religion to be vain, it is evident, that the proper office of religion is to bring the whole soul into subjection to God’s law, and to render us conformed to the perfect example of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It will make us to aspire after this, and to strive for it, and in a considerable measure to attain it. I say, in a considerable measure; because perfection, sinless perfection, is not to be attained by such corrupt and feeble creatures as we. “The wildest beasts have been so tamed as almost to have changed their nature: but the tongue can no man tame [Note: James 3:7-8.],” so as never in any instance to offend with it. Not even Moses, or Job, or Paul, attained such perfection as that. But still, as to any predominant habit of sin, we shall be delivered from it, if we are truly upright before God; and shall be enabled to say with David, “I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle,” when most tempted and provoked to speak unadvisedly with my lips [Note: Psalms 39:1.].]

From hence we can be at no loss to determine,

II. The state of those in whom its appropriate influence is not found—

The declaration in our text may be accounted harsh; and particularly as made to persons who were considered as eminent in the Church of Christ. But it is true; and must be delivered, whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear. Mark,

1. What is here supposed—

[It is supposed that a man may seem to others to be religious, and may be fully persuaded in his own mind that he is so; and yet have so little government of his tongue, as to prove that he deceives his own heart, and that his religion is vain. And is this a supposition that is not warranted in fact? Would to God it were so! but he can know very little of the Christian world, divided as it is into innumerable sects and parties, and not know, that the most prominent in every sect have been but too ready to condemn each other, and oftentimes with an acrimony which has shewn clearly enough under whose malignant influence they were. A little difference of sentiment about certain doctrines (though not of primary or fundamental importance), or about matters of discipline only (which are confessedly less plainly revealed in the Gospel), have been sufficient, and still are, to rend the seamless garment of Christ into ten thousand pieces, and to fill with mutual enmity whole communities, who profess to have embraced a religion of love. Nor is it in this respect only that the Christian world are obnoxious to the reproof given in our text. The pride, and conceit, and vanity, of many professors proclaim to the whole world how destitute they are of true humility, and consequently of true religion. Their envious surmisings too, their uncharitable censures, their vindictive recriminations; alas! there are scarcely any persons more guilty of these things than blind bigots and party zealots, and talkative professors. Shall I mention the licence which many give to their tongue, in ungoverned anger, in palpable falsehood, in shameless impurity? Ah! tell it not in Gath; publish it not in the streets of Askelon: such are the defects of many who yet stand fair with the Christian world, and would think themselves greatly injured, if their piety were held in doubt. It is plain that such things existed in the Apostle’s days; and we flatter ourselves too much, if we think that the Church is a whit purer in the present day. There ever were, and there still are, “tares growing with the wheat;” and they must be left to God, who alone can make the separation.]

2. What is here asserted—

[The religion of such persons, however eminent they may be in the estimation of themselves or others, is altogether “vain:” for it will neither be accepted of God, nor be of any avail for the salvation of their souls. God cannot accept it, because he looketh at the heart. External forms, or strong professions, cannot deceive him. “He requireth truth in the inward parts:” and forms his estimate of men by the conformity of their hearts to his mind and will. To what purpose will it be that we “cry, Lord, Lord, if we do not the things which he says?” We are told by St. Paul to what a height of religion men may apparently attain, even “exercising a faith that can remove mountains, and speaking as with the tongues of angels, and giving all their goods to feed the poor, yea and their bodies also to be burnt, and yet be no better before God than sounding brass or tinkling cymbals [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.].” Let those who have not the government of the tongue attend to this. The want of that self-command argues a radical want of the vital principle of love: and the want of that principle vitiates all that we can either do or suffer, and renders it of no value in the sight of God. He has warned us beforehand, that “he will take account even of every idle word that we speak [Note: Matthew 12:36.],” and much more of every uncharitable word; and that “by our words we shall be justified, and by our words we shall be condemned [Note: Matthew 12:37.].”]

In reflecting on this subject, we cannot but observe,

1. In what an awful state they must be, who have not even the appearance of religion—

[I know that persons who have no desire after vital godliness will bless themselves because they are not hypocrites. But is it to the credit of any, that they do not even pretend to have the fear of God in their hearts? Is it to the credit of any, that whilst they name the name of Christ, they do not so much as profess to depart from iniquity, or to take his yoke upon them? What is this boast, but an avowed acknowledgment that they are rebels against God, violaters of his laws, haters of his Christ, and contemners of his salvation? Go ye on then, and glory that ye are not hypocrites;—though it were easy enough to prove that you are the basest hypocrites, because you profess yourselves Christians, and would be indignant with any one who should dispute your title to Christian ordinances and Christian burial, whilst you give the lie to that profession by the whole tenour of your life and conversation;—I say, go on, and glory that ye are not hypocrites. Then you shall not be condemned as hypocrites. But ye are rebels; and, as rebels, ye shall be condemned: and that Saviour whom you now despise, will shortly say, “Bring hither those mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me.” Yes, verily, if those who have so much religion as to stand high in the estimation of the Christian Church on account of it, may yet deceive themselves, and have their religion vain, much more must you deceive yourselves, if you hope to escape the judgments of God in the eternal world. If their religion will not save them, much less will your irreligion save you. Repent then, and turn unto your God in sincerity and truth. Yet look not to your reformation to save you, but to the Lord Jesus Christ, who expiated your guilt by his own blood, and offers you by my mouth the forgiveness of your sins. As an ambassador from him, I beseech you in his stead, be ye reconciled to God. Then shall not only your “sins be blotted out as a cloud,” but your very love of sin shall be subdued and mortified by his Spirit and grace; so that the fountain which has hitherto emitted so much that was impure, shall henceforth flow in endless streams of praise to your redeeming God [Note: James 3:11.].]

2. What need the professors of religion have of vigilance and care—

[You see in others how difficult it is to have the full government of the tongue. Know then that the same difficulty exists in relation to yourselves. But in yourselves you are apt to overlook it. It is surprising how faulty a religious professor may be in the licence which he allows to his tongue, whilst he is not conscious of any fault at all, or perhaps takes credit to himself for his fidelity and zeal. But, when you hear how fatally you may deceive your own souls, it becomes you to be upon your guard, and to pray continually, with David, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, and keep the door of my lips [Note: Psalms 141:3.].” And be not content with abstaining from evil discourse, but let your words be always such as may “minister grace to the hearers, and tend to the use of edifying [Note: Ephesians 4:29.].” The power of speech is that which above all others may be employed for the honour of God, and the welfare of your fellow-creatures. In this respect your tongue is “your glory.” Bid it then “awake to honour and adore your God [Note: Psalms 57:8.].” Remember, it is not the talkative professor of religion that is always the most humble or most acceptable in the sight of God. Many of that description there are, who “think themselves to be something, when they are nothing;” and thereby eventually deceive and ruin their own souls [Note: Galatians 6:3. See especially Romans 2:18-20.] — — — Be not ye of that unhappy number. Be rather “swift to hear, and slow to speak [Note: ver. 19.].” And, if you do stand forward to instruct and benefit others, be doubly careful to set an example of all that you inculcate, and to let the power of religion appear in the whole of your own spirit and deportment.]


Verse 27

DISCOURSE: 2362

PURE AND UNDEFILED RELIGION DESCRIBED

James 1:27. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

ERRORS of the most fatal kind were early found in the Christian Church. So speedily had vital godliness decayed, that even in the Apostles’ days a mere form and profession of religion was deemed sufficient. Under the idea of exalting faith, the value of good works was depreciated, and the necessity of performing them denied. Against such errors the Apostle James lifted up his voice like a trumpet: he bore testimony against them in the most energetic manner: he declared that “faith without works was dead [Note: James 2:20.]:” that to be “hearers of the word and not doers of it, was the way to deceive our own souls [Note: ver. 22.]:” that the “religion” which did not produce self-government, “was vain [Note: ver. 26.]:” and that religion, which alone God would acknowledge as “pure and undefiled,” would lead to the most self-denying exercises of love, and to a freedom from all those corruptions with which the world abounded: “Pure religion, &c. &c.”

Let us consider,

I. His description of true religion—

We must remember that the Apostle is here speaking of religion solely in a practical view. He is not speaking of principles. Not that he disregards them: on the contrary, instead of setting aside the doctrines of justification by faith, as some would represent, he insists on the necessity of faith as strongly as St. Paul himself; only he distinguishes between that which is living and operative, and that which is uninfluential and dead; and affirms, that it is the living and operative faith only, which will save the soul.

Nor is the whole even of practical religion in the contemplation of the Apostle in this passage. He does not advert to the exercise of our affections towards God, but only to our actions towards men: and it is in this confined view that we must understand him as speaking in the words before us.

He informs us how religion will influence us in reference to,

1. The world at large—

[The terms here made use of draw the line with great accuracy. It is not required of us to renounce the world entirely: we are social beings, and have many social duties to perform: and, if we were to abandon society altogether, we should withhold from mankind many benefits which they have a right to expect from us. When God calls us “the salt of the earth.” it is necessarily implied that we are to come in contact with that mass, which, by our influence, is to be kept from corruption. But from “the corruptions that are in the world [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.]” we are to “keep ourselves unspotted.” Its pleasures, riches, and honours we are to despise [Note: 1 John 2:15-16.], even as our Lord Jesus Christ himself did [Note: John 17:14-16.]. Nor are we to be conformed to its sentiments and habits [Note: Romans 12:2.]: even its friendship we are neither to court nor desire [Note: James 4:4.]. If we would approve ourselves Christians indeed, we must “feel such an influence from the cross of Christ, as to be crucified unto the world, and to have the world altogether crucified unto us [Note: Galatians 6:14.].” Thus, though in the world, we shall clearly shew that we are not of the world.]

2. That part of it which is destitute and afflicted—

[Love is the life and soul of religion: and, as it will extend to all in general, so will it manifest itself particularly towards those who are bowed down with affliction. The “visiting” of the afflicted is an office which the true Christian will delight to execute; yet not in a slight and transient manner: he will so interest himself in all their concerns, as to relieve and comfort them to the utmost of his power [Note: This is implied in the word ἐπισκέπτεσθαι.]. His conduct towards them will resemble that of Job [Note: Job 29:12-13; Job 30:25; Job 31:16-20.]. It is the way in which he expresses his obligations to God [Note: Isaiah 58:6-7.]; and in which he shews his love to his Lord and Saviour [Note: Matthew 25:45.]. He considers love and charity as a commandment stamped with peculiar authority by Christ himself [Note: John 13:34.]; and, in obedience to it, he desires to “weep with them that weep, as well as to rejoice with them that rejoice [Note: Romans 12:15.].” This is “pure and undefiled religion.” Other things may pass for religion before men, but this is religion “before God:” it is that which he will acknowledge as agreeable to his will, and will recompense with tokens of his approbation.]

This description of religion will probably force from us a tribute of applause: but, instead of bestowing on it empty commendations, it will be proper to consider,

III. The use we are to make of it—

The Apostle doubtless designed that we should regard it,

1. As a criterion whereby to judge of our state—

[“Victory over the world” is one of those marks which are universally found in the Lord’s people, and in no other [Note: 1 John 4:4-5.]. Other persons, it is true, may be free from open vices, and, through disappointments and infirmities, may become disgusted with the world: but their love of the world is not at all changed, provided they could have the things on which their hearts are fixed, with health and strength to enjoy them.

A delight in all the offices of love to men for Christ’s sake is another mark, whereby Christians are distinguished from all other persons. It is a disposition which springs out of a sense of redeeming love [Note: 1 John 4:10-11.], and infallibly “accompanies salvation [Note: Hebrews 6:9-10.].” The want of this disposition argues a total absence of divine grace [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.]; whilst the exercise of it warrants an assured confidence in the Divine favour [Note: 1 John 3:17-19.].

Let us then bring ourselves to this touchstone. Let us ask ourselves, whether we do indeed account it “better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting?” Do we consider ourselves as “pilgrims and sojourners here;” and value our possessions, not so much for the respect or comfort which they procure to ourselves, as for the opportunities they afford us of honouring God and benefiting our fellow-creatures?

Alas! alas! when estimated according to this rule, how little of “pure and undefiled religion” will be found! This is a melancholy view indeed of the Christian world; but it is the view which God himself gives us of it; and it is in vain for us to controvert it; for by his decision we must stand or fall [Note: See Matthew 25:34-46.].]

2. As a directory whereby to regulate our conduct—

[The commands of God relative to these things are clear and express: “Come out from the world, and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:17-18.].” Nor is the law respecting sympathy at all less forcibly enjoined: “Bear ye one another’s burthens, and so fulfil the law of Christ [Note: Galatians 6:2.].”

In a word, I call upon you all to obey these great commands. Remember, it is not to any peculiarities of a sect that we are urging you, but to that which God himself dignifies with the name of “pure and undefiled religion.”

Say not, “This is not my office: I cannot thus come out from the world, nor can I thus devote myself to deeds of charity.” I readily grant that all cannot consecrate an equal measure of their time or property to these offices: but no man in the universe has any dispensation from devoting such a measure of his time and property to these things as his situation and circumstances will admit of. The command is equally obligatory on all: and a disposition to obey it ought to be equally strong in all. The various modes of our obedience will be judged of by God himself, who alone knows what our respective states and circumstances require. But this I say, “He that soweth liberally shall reap liberally; and he that soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly.” Respecting the excellence of such religion I dare appeal to your own consciences. See a person, whether of higher or lower rank, laying aside the cares and pleasures of the world, and visiting the abodes of misery: see the disconsolate “widow, and the helpless children,” bemoaning their bereavement, whilst to the anguish occasioned by so severe a loss, the pressure of poverty is added; and, to the want of immediate sustenance, the prospect of permanent and irremediable distress: see the compassionate visitor opening the sources of consolation which the Gospel affords, till the unhappy sufferers are brought to kiss the rod that smites them: see him administering present relief, and devising means for the future support of the family: how is he received as an angel from heaven! And how does “the widow’s heart even sing with joy,” whilst she acknowledges the hand of God in these succours, and, with feelings too big for utterance, adores her Heavenly Benefactor! Go ye, beloved, to such scenes as these, and ye will soon begin to see the beauty of religion, and to understand that paradox, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Yea, realize one such scene as this, and ye will need no further persuasion to assist the charity before us, or to emulate the zeal of those who are most active in it [Note: The particular Institution may here be more fully opened, and be further recommended by either local, or general, considerations.].]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on James 1:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/james-1.html. 1832.

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Tuesday, February 19th, 2019
the Sixth Week after Epiphany
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