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manifold declensions were found, not only in individuals, but in whole Churches : and St. James, with the utmost fidelity and earnestness, set himself to counteract the fatal evil. Amongst the various evils which he had to reprove, was that of undue security, or of presuming on the success of our plans for future advancement, without any becoming reference to the shortness and uncertainty of life: and there being still but too much reason to complain of this habit in the Christian world, I shall distinctly mark, I. The habit which is here censured
The Apostle does not intend to condemn all forethought and contrivance ; for then we should all be as weak and foolish as children : nor, indeed, if prospective plans were unlawful, would any one branch of agriculture or commerce, or even of liberal education, be carried forward. It is the proud reliance on our own wisdom, and the confident expectation of time to come, that is here condemned; and this is, 1. A great evil
[What is it but an entire forgetfulness of our dependence upon God? For who is it that can give success to any plans, but God himself? And, if we could command success, who can tell whether that which we seek as a blessing, may not prove to us the greatest curse? Even an unqualified desire of the things themselves, without a reference to the wisdom of God to choose for us, and his will to bestow them on us, is highly sinful. It contravenes that express command, " Thou shalt not covet,” and is, in fact, an usurpation of God's prerogative to direct and govern the affairs of men. Besides, such a confident expectation of life is of itself most offensive to God : for it is “ he who holdeth our souls in life :" “ in him we live, and move, and have our being:" and the contemplation of life, irrespective of his agency, is no other than practical atheism.] 2. A common evil
[We imbibe these atheistical sentiments from our earliest infancy. Scarcely any other ever meet our ears. parents are constantly speaking to us of what is to be gained by us in future years in consequence of our own care and industry. As we grow up, we buoy up ourselves with the
same unqualified hopes and expectations: from youth to manhood, and from manhood to old age, we still continue to speak of future events as depending on ourselves, rather than on God; and seldom, if ever, have any direct reference in our minds to the superintending and all-directing providence of God. Indeed, it is from hence that our exertions principally arise: and so gratifying to our minds is this corrupt habit, that our chief happiness in life arises from it: for it is a well-known fact, that the fond dreams of hope almost invariably exceed the pleasures of actual enjoyment.]
Such is the evil which the Apostle censured in the words before us : which, however, lead us yet further to consider, II. The folly of it
There is nothing in reality at our command, or under our controul. We cannot by any means secure, 1. The success of our labours
(" We cannot tell what shall be on the morrow :" we cannot tell how soon circumstances may arise to make us view that as an evil, which we just before coveted as a good. The fact is, that there is scarcely a man living, who has not as much reason to bless God for the dispensations by which his desires have been thwarted, as for those by which they have been gratified. How foolish then is it to take the disposal of events out of God's hands, instead of committing it to him, whose wisdom cannot err, and whose power cannot be counteracted ! We may, like Israel, cause him "in wrath to give us” the object of our inordinate desires, and constrain him to inflict upon us the judgment denounced against his disobedient people; “I will curse their blessings."] 2. The continuance of our lives
[“ What is our life? it is a vapour that appeareth but a little time, and then vanisheth away.” This is a truth which all acknowledge; and which, if duly considered, would abate the ardour of our earthly pursuits, and moderate our too sanguine expectations. Who has not seen persons in the bloom of youth, when promising themselves years of prosperity and joy, cut off suddenly, even as the flower of the grass, which in the morning looks gay and flourishing, and in the evening is cut down, dried up, and withered ? Yes, a light, airy, unsubstantial vapour is but too just an image of life, which in its best estate is vanity, and in the twinkling of an eye may pass away for ever. Is it wise then to be either looking forward to future joys, or resting too confidently in joys possessed, when for aught that we know, the decree may have already gone forth, “This year,” this month, this very day, “shalt thou die a ?”] Let us LEARN from this subject,
1. To have a direct reference to God in all things –
(God will govern all things, whether we acknowledge him or not: and, if we refer all to him, he will govern all things for our good. Not a hair of our head shall fall to the ground without his special permission.]
2. To be moderate in our anticipations of earthly bliss
[What a lesson is taught us by the fate of him who said to his soul, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, and be merry.” The reply of God to him was, “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.” The true way to avoid disappointment from earthly things, is, to regard them as vanity and vexation of spirit, and to be contented with such a measure of them as God sees to be best for us.]
3. To bend all our attention to the concerns of eternity
[These will never disappoint our hopes : we shall never seek eternal happiness in vain. Our desires in reference to them cannot be too large, nor our expectations from them too sanguine. Who, on coming to our blessed Saviour, was ever cast out? In what instance did the blood of Christ ever prove insufficient to justify, or his grace to save ? As for life, the cutting short of that will not deprive us of any blessing which we have ever sought: on the contrary, it will bring us to the speedier possession of all good. We must indeed, in spiritual as well as carnal things, place our hope in God alone; because God alone can "give us either to will or to do ;” and in the bestowment of his blessings he will consult only “his own will and pleasure :" but if we look steadfastly to him, and rely confidently on him alone, we shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end."]
* Here any instances of hopes disappointed by sudden death may be referred to.
b ver. 15, 16.
SINS OF OMISSION CONSIDERED.
Jam. iv. 17. To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not,
to him it is sin. THERE is not any thing of which men are more convinced, than the shortness and uncertainty of life: yet in the habit of their minds they live as if they were certain of many months and years to come. They form their plans and projects as if they were sure of living to see them executed. Of this the Apostle complains in the preceding context, because it altogether overlooks God in the government of the world, and is nothing less than practical atheism.
Having pointed out the evil of such a habit, the Apostle deduces from it this general position ; that, as the person who in theory acknowledges the providence of God, and practically denies it, sins; so, whoever omits to do any other thing which he knows to be right, sins also.
It is my intention,
Let us consider what such conduct manifests. It argues, 1. An insensibility in the conscience
[God has given to every man a conscience, to be, as it were, his vicegerent in the soul. It is designed by him to check us, when we are in danger of committing any evil, and to stimulate us continually to whatever is pleasing in his sight. But if, when we know what is good, we do it not, we shew that we have silenced the voice of conscience, or have rendered ourselves incapable of attending to its suggestions. And is this no sin ? 'Is a sentinel who sleeps at his post guilty of no crime, when through his unwatchfulness a camp or city is surprised? And is not a minister, who, when he seeth the sword of God's vengeance uplifted to strike his people, neglects to warn them, justly chargeable with their blooda? Shall not guilt then attach to you, who lull your consciences
asleep, and say to yourselves, “ I shall have peace, notwithstanding I walk after the imagination of my own evil heartb?" The very heathen were charged with guilt, because, “when from the works of creation they knew God, they glorified him not as Gode:” depend upon it, therefore, that your neglect of known and acknowledged duties cannot but involve your souls also in much guilt.]
2. An indifference to the welfare of our own souls
[It is by our works that we shall be judged in the last day. We are as servants that have talents committed to us: they who make a good improvement of them will have a proportionable reward: but those who hide them in a napkin will be dealt with as wicked and unprofitable servants a What then do you say, in fact, when you neglect an acknowledged duty? You say, in reality, ' I care not for my soul; I care not whether it is happy in a future world, or not: I know that by a diligent attention to all God's commands, I might advance its eternal interests: and I know that by inattention to his will I shall involve it in misery: but let me have present ease ; let me be excused the trouble of doing what does not suit my taste and inclination : let me have the world with its pleasures and interests : and if through my love to present things I must lose my soul, be it so : I consent to “ the exchange:” “ I will sell my birth-right for a mess of pottage'." Tell me now, Is there nothing criminal in this ? May not such persons be justly charged with “ loving death, and wronging their own souls 8 ?” Yes: whether a man do a thing of which he doubts the lawfulness, or neglect to do a thing of which he admits the necessity, he is equally " a sinner against his own soul:" for, as “ whatsoever is not of faith, is sin ," so to know what is good and to neglect it, is sin also.] 3. A contempt of Almighty God
(Whatever obedience a man may pay to all other commandments, if there be one which he knowingly violates, or wilfully neglects, he is a rebel against God, and a contemner of his Divine Majesty'. For the same authority that enjoins one, enjoins all: and if it be disregarded in one, it is in reality disregarded in allk: for it is impossible to have a due regard to it in any thing, if we have not a regard to it in every thing. And is it no sin to cast off the yoke of God, and to say, for the word that has been spoken to me in the name of the
b Deut. xxix. 19, 20.
c Rom. i. 21. d Luke xix. 15—27.