« PreviousContinue »
that his pretensions to faith must be supported by a suitable life and conversation"; 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
therebyThe world suppose that the service of God is irksome and unprofitable ; but the Christian can attest the contrary from his own experienceIn the very act of obeying he finds a rich reward
[He can adopt, in reference to the law, the declaration of St. Pauls – However strict the commandments be, he does not account them grievoust: on the contrary, he feels “ the ways of religion to be pleasantness and peace 4." His deliverance from impetuous passions is no small source of happiness: his exercise of benevolent affections greatly tranquillizes his minds. The testimony of his own conscience is a rich and continual feasty. Moreover G 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"; and the description, alluded to in the text, is abundantly verified a.]
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 b. Nor does this at all interfere with the doctrines of
and our services are equally accepted through Christ, and our happiness will be altogether the gift of God for his sake: but our works will assuredly be the measure of our reward", and we may with propriety be stimulated by the hope of a future recompence. Let the Christian then know, that not the
Jam. ii. 17-20.
s Rom. vii. 22.
ti John v. 3.
meanest of his services shall be forgotten'; but that his weight of glory shall be proportioned to his services.] 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 h; 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 – Thus should they know the truth, and the truth should make them freek.] 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!” Thus shall your "peace flow down like a river;" and abundant treasures be laid up for you in the heavenly kingdom".]
Jam. i. 26. If any man among you seem to be religious, and
bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's 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. În 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,
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 Christa."
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 b.” 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. wildest beasts have been so tamed as almost to have changed their nature: but the tongue can no man tame," 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 a.]
From hence we can be at no loss to determine, II. The state of those in whom its appropriate influ
ence 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 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,
a 2 Cor. x. 4, 5.
b Matt. xii. 34.
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 cymbalse.” Let those who have not the
e 1 Cor. xiii. 1-3.