« PreviousContinue »
ought not to entertain very high notions of earthly things, he ought to esteem that in man, which constitutes his real greatness, that immortality, which is a part of his essence, those hopes of eternal glory, at which he aspires, those efforts, which he is making towards bearing the image of his Creator: such qualities deserve esteem, and not the empty advantages of fortune.
The apostle, having established this general maxim, applies it to a particular case: but there are some difficulties in his manner of stating the case, as well as in the maxim, to which he applies it. If there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodiy apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him, that weareth the gay cloathing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? What assembly had the apostle in view here?
Some think, he spoke of an assembly of judges, and by respect, or appearance of persons, a spirit of partiality. They say, these words of St. James are synonimous to those of God to Jewish judges by Moses, Thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour, Lev. xix. 15. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment: but ye shall hear the small as well as the great, Deut. i. 16, 17. They confirm this opinion by quoting a canon of the Jews which enacts, that, when two persons of unequal rank appear together in the Sanhedrim, one shall not be allowed to sit while the other stands: but both shall either sit together, or stand together, to avoid every shadow of partiality.
But perhaps our apostle spoke also of religious assemblies, and intended to inform primitive christians, that where the distinctions of princes and subjects, magistrates and people. were not known, there the rich would effect state, aspire to chief places, and gratify their senseless vanity by placing the poor on their footstools, in order to make them feel their indigence and meanness. However the apostle might mean, whether he spoke of juridical assemblies, or of religious conventions of partial judgments, or of improper distinctions in the church, it is plain, he intended to preclude that veneration, which in little souls riches obtain for their possessors,
and that disdain, which poverty excites in such minds for those, whom providence hath exposed to it.
Among many reasons, by which he enforces his exhortation, that, which immediately precedes the text, is taken from charity, or benevolence. If ye fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well. But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. Then follow the words of the text, for whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
It should seem at first, from the connection of the text with the preceding verses, that, when St. James says, whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all, he means, by this one point, benevolence. However, I cannot think, the meaning of St. James ought to be thus restricted. I rather suppose, that he took occasion from a particular subject to establish a general maxim, that includes all sins, which come under the same description with that, of which he was speaking. On this account, after he has said, whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all, he adds, for he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill, he adds another example beside that of which he had been speaking. Consequently, he intended not only to speak of violation of the precepts of love: but also of all others, which had the same characters.
But in what light does he place this violation of the precept of love? He considers it as a sin committed with full consent, preceded by a judgment of the mind, accompanied with mature deliberation, and, to a certain degree, approved by him who commits it. All these ideas are contained in these words, ye have respect to persons, ye are partial in yourselves, ye are judges of evil thoughts, ye have despised the poor. What the apostle affirms of love in particular, he affirms of all sins committed with the same dispositions. Every sin committed with full consent, preceded by a judgment of the mind, accompanied with mature deliberation; every sin that conscience is made to approve during the commission of it; every such sin is included in this maxim of our apostle, whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
In this manner divest the text of one vague notion, to which it may seem to have given occasion. We acquit the
apostle of the charge of preaching a melancholy, cruel, mo. rality, and we affirm, for the comfort of weak and timorous minds, that we ought not to place among the sins here intended either momentary faults, daily frailties, or involuntary passions.
1. By daily frailties I mean those imperfections of piety, which are inseparable from the conditions of inhabitants of this world, which mix themselves with the virtues of the most eminent saints, and which, even in the highest exercises of the most fervid piety, make them feel that they are men, and that they are sinful men, By daily frailties Į mean wanderings in prayer, troublesome intrusions of sensible objects, low exercises of self-love, and many other infirmities, of which you my dear brethren! have had too many examples in your own lives in time past, and yet have too much experience in the tempers of your hearts every day. Infirmities of this kind do not answer the black description, which St. James gives of the offence mentioned in the text. A good man, who is subject to these frailties, far from approving the sad necessity, that carries him off from his duty, deplores it. In him they are not conclusions from principles, laid down with full consent: they are sad effects of that imperfection, which God hath thought proper to leave in our knowledge and holiness, and which will remain as long as we continue to languish life away in this valley of tears. To say all in one word, they are rather an imperfection essential to nature, than a direct violation of the law.
2. We ought not to number momentary faults among the offences, of which it is said, Whosoever committeth one is guilty of a violation of the whole law. Where is the regenerate man, where is the saint, where is the saint of the highest order, who can assure himself, he shall never fall into some sins? Where is the faith so firm as to promise never to tremble at the sight of racks, stakes and gibbets? Where is that christian heroism, which can render a man invulnerable to some fiery darts, with which the enemy of our salvation sometimes assaults us; and, (what is still more unattainable by human firmness) where is that christian heroism, which can render a man invulnerable to some darts of voluptuousness, which strike the tenderest parts of nature, and excite those passions which are at the same time the most turbulent and the most agreeable? A believer falls into such sins only in those sad moments, in which he is surprized unawares, and in which he loses in a manner the power of re
Яecting and thinking. If there remain any liberty of judg ment amidst the phrenzy, he employs it to recal his reason, which is fleeing, and to arouse his virtue, that sleeps in spite of all his efforts. All chained as he is by the enemy, he makes efforts, weak indeed, but yet earnest, to disengage himself. The pleasures of sin, even when he most enjoys them, and while he sacrificeth his piety and innocence to them, are embittered by the inward remorse, that rises in his regenerate soul. While he delivers himself up to the temptation and the tempter, he complains, O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Rom. vii. 24. When the charm has spent its force, when his fascinated eyes recover their sight, and he sees objects again in their true point of light, then conscience reclaims its rights; then he detests what he just before admired; then the cause of his joy becomes the cause of his sorrow and terror, and he prefers the pain, anguish and torture of repentance, before the most alluring attractives of sin.
3. We will venture one step further. We affirm, that gusts of involuntary passions ought not to be included in the number of sins, of which St. James saith, Whosoever offendeth in one point, he is guilty of all. God placeth us in this world as in a state of trial. We are all born with some passions, which it is our duty to attack, and mortify: but from which we shall never be able to free ourselves entirely. The soul of one is united to a body, naturally so modified as to incline him to voluptuousness. Another soul has dispositions naturally inclining it to avarice, pride, envy, or jealousy. It is in our power to resist these passions: but to have, or not to have them, when we come into the world, doth not depend on us. We ought not always to judge of our state by the enemy, whom we have to encounter: but by the vigilance, with which we resist him. In spite of some remains of inclination to pride, we may become humble, if we endeavour sincerely and heartily to become so. In spite of natural inclinations to avarice, we may become generous by endeavouring to become so, and so of the rest. Involuntary passions, when we zealously endeavour to restrain them, ought to be considered as exercises of our virthe prescribed by our Creator; and not as criminal effects of the obstinacy of the creature. The sins, into a commission of which they beguile us, ought always to humble us; indeed they would involve us in eternal misery, were we not
recovered by repentance after having fallen into them: but neither they, nor transient offences, nor daily frailties ought to be reckoned among those sins, of which St. James says, he, who offendeth in one point, is guilty of all. The sins, of which the apostle speaks are preceded by the judginent of the mind, accompanied with mature deliberation, and approved by conscience. Thus we have divested the text of one vague meaning to which it may seem to have given oc
But in what sense may it be affirmed of any sin, that he, ho offendeth in one point, is guilty of all? The nature of the subject must answer this second question, and enable us to reject the false senses, that are given to the proposition of our apostle. It is plain, St. James neither meant to establish an equality of sins, nor an equality of punishments. It is evident, that as sins are unequal among men, so justice requires an inequality of punishment. The man, who adds murder to hatred, is certainly more guilty than he, who restrains his hatred, and trembles at a thought of murder. He, whose hatred knows no bounds, and who endeavours to assuage it with murder, will certainly be punished more rigorously
than the former.
What then was the apostle's meaning? He probably had two views, a particular, and a general view. The particular design might regard the theological system of some Jews, and the general design might regard the moral system of too many christians.
Some Jews, soon after the apostles time, and very likely in his days*, affirmed, that God gave a great many precepts to men, not that he intended to oblige them to the observance of all: but that they might have an opportunity of obtaining salvation by observing any one of them; and, it was one of their maxims, that he, who diligently kept one command, was thereby freed from the necessity of observing the rest. Agreeably to this notion a famous Rabbit expounds these words in Hosea, Take away all iniquity, and give good, that is, according to the false notion of our expositor, pardon our sins, and accept our zeal for one precept of thy law. What is still more remarkable, when the Jews choosea precept, they usually choose one, that gives the least check to their favourite passions, and one that is least essential to religion, as some ceremonial precept. This, perhaps, is what
* See Whitby on James ii. 2. + Kimchi on Hof. xiv. 2. Marg.