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having been always accustomed to think of themselves as strangers in the earth, they constantly regarded death as a departure to that other and better country, of which they lived in perpetual expectation, and could not therefore be surprised or alarmed, at being called to take possession, as knowing, they began their journey, in order to finish it. Could we think as they did, we should live as they did, and die as they did.—Nor should we grieve for the dead, who have died in the Lord. They have only passed us upon the road, and are gone, as it were, to prepare for our reception. And surely, in the journey of life, as in other journeys, it is a pleasing reflection, that, whatever usage we may meet with abroad (and strangers do not often meet with the best), we have friends, who are thinking of us at home, and will receive us with joy, when our journey is at an end.—And lo, the heavens are opened, and the habitations of the blessed disclose themselves to view. The glorious company of the apostles ; the goodly fellowship of the prophets; the noble army of martyrs, all that have departed hence, from the beginning of the world, in the faith and fear of God, a great multitude which no man can number, -are seen standing in white robes, with palms in their hands. They beckon us away to those blissful regions, from whence sin and sorrow are for ever excluded, and into which they who are admitted, 'go no more out.' All once, like us, trod, with many a toilsome step, this valley of weeping; all once confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Now, they rest from their labours, and are entered into the joy of their Lord. They have accomplished happily their journey; and, through faith and patience, have inherited the promises—A seraph's voice, from the eternal throne, calls to every one of us, -Go, and do thou likewise,'
SERMON LXVIII. .
FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER.
THE EPISTLE EXPLAINED. St. JAMES I. 17–21.--Every good gift and every perfect gift is from
above, and eometh down from the Father of lights; with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. 18. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. 19. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. 20. For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. 21, Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
[Epistle for the Day.) The Scripture now before us, being somewhat difficult, upon the account of some metaphorical allusions contained in it, I shall, first, explain each passage in order as it lies: and, secondly, shall, deduce such inferences, as are most practical and proper.
In order to understand the beginning of it, let it be considered, that the apostle had before directed every one who lacks wisdom, to ask it of God;' [ver. 5.) and afterwards had refuted the false notions some entertained, of God and his providence. To the disposal hereof having rightly ascribed all events and changes, they from thence very erroneously inferred, that he was the author and cause, of all the sin committed by men. (Ver. 13, 14, &c.]
This argument seems more particularly directed against an opinion of the Pharisees : a sect of all among the Jews in the highest credit and veneration. Of these Josephus says [Antiq. Lib. xviii. Cap. 2.) that 'they imputed all things to fate,' but adds, that they did not do this in such a manner, as absolutely to destroy free will.' For reconciling this seeming inconsistence, we shall do well to take notice, that they laid great stress upon the particular frame and constitution of men, their humours and complexions, and the influences of those planets and stars, under which they were born. Thus they made the virtues and vices of men to depend upon these causes ; and so charged upon God, the director of these causes, that good or evil, which men could hardly, with good sense, be said to choose, by those who held them to be, by nature and from their birth, necessarily determined to the one or the other. This remark will be of some use to us, in discerning not only the true occasion and force of the apostle's reasoning, but also the propriety of the terms, in which it is expressed.
In opposition to this dangerous scheme, St. James, writing to Christians converted from Judaism, asserts that every advantage, conducing to our virtue and perfections, descends upon us indeed from heaven. Yet not from that heaven, where the sun and other luminous bodies move, but from above: for this peculiar energy some have attributed to that word above.' They come down from him, who dwells in those that (according to a known distinction in use with the Jews) are called the highest heavens:' even from him, who is truly styled the Father of lights, as he created and constituted those lights and their influences. Now he disposes his gifts and graces in such a manner, that, whether they come to us immediately from himself, or whether by the mediation and ministry of his creatures, still the conveyance makes no difference; but they are, either way, to be acknowledged his gifts. He is the author and source, the proprietor and the bestower, of all goodness; and all below him, are but in the nature of instruments to hand down, or pipes, through which this fountain chooses to transmit the streams of his overflowing beneficence, to any of us.
This doctrine the Apostle hath shown to be far preferable to the other, not only as true, but as more advantageous to mankind. For the appearances of the heavenly bodies vary, and their influences are more powerful or feeble, in proportion as themselves are nearer or more distant. Now those bodies, being continually in motion, must consequently change their supposed power with their situation, as they rise or set, approach or remove: so that, as themselves are not, so neither can the effects attributed to them, be fixed and constant. But the father of these lights is immutable and omnipresent ; he is always at hand to hear and to help; and always both able and willing to do that which he knows to be most for the ad. vantage of them, who have recourse to him for succour and supplies.
Of this the Apostle makes proof at the 18th verse, by an instance the most valuable of any that could possibly be ima
gined ; even the revelation of his truth in the gospel of our blessed Saviour, which is meant there by the word ;' nay, the making this an instrument of the highest honour and privilege, even our spiritual adoption ; for •by this word he begat us.' St. James adds the design served by the benefits of this new birth; the setting Christians above the rest of mankind, distinguishing them by the best of dispensations, and by a holiness of life agreeable to it, consecrating them to his own use and service, and asserting them for his own peculiar, in a degree vastly more honourable and beneficial than any thing of this kind had ever been vouchsafed in, even to the Jews themselves. For all this seems to be implied, in that allusion to the old law, which styles us a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.' And then, as an irrefragable evidence of the kindness and gracious disposition of this heavenly father, it is said that all this was his free and voluntary act; for ' of his own will he begat us,' &c.
Thus far proceeds the argumentative part of this epistle, and how fully it answers the apostle's purpose, these two remarks will easily inform us :
1. By declaring God to be the author of every good and perfect gift,' he strengthens his exhortation in the beginning of the chapter, to beg of him a supply of all necessary wisdom. This being a gift agreeable to the excellence of his nature to bestow, and to the occasions of our own to desire, as that which, above any other, conduces to the true goodness and utmost perfection of mankind, attainable in the present and in a future state.
2. By observing the unchangeableness of God's nature and will, he hath abundantly confuted the error of those mistaken men, who, by holding a fatality in all events and actions, do from thence fall into a consequence, not easily to be avoided ; viz. the horrible impiety of charging the sins of men upon God, the supposed ordainer of that fatality. For, what can be a greater contradiction than that the giver of all the good,' should likewise be the author of all the evil in the world? This would argue the most direct contrariety in the same mind. As a further confirmation of this, St. James takes notice of the gracious methods of salvation, God's revealing the gospel, on purpose to reform, and improve, and save mankind from sin. Which, all proceeding of his own mere motion, show, that the
wickedness of men is most displeasing to him. This renders him incapable of promoting that very thing, by tempting to it, which he, of his own accord, hath contrived so admirable an expedient to destroy, by so expressly warning men against it, and so wonderfully preserving them from it.
- These are the inferences most suitable to the occasion and immediate design of this passage. But we, who have liberty to consider it in a greater latitude, shall not do our duty, except we learn from hence, 1. To ascribe, with all possible thankfulness, to this good God alone, every advantage we enjoy, whether of nature, of fortune, or of grace: not taking to ourselves the glory of any, which our own endeavours help to procure; not depending upon any human assistances; not esteeming the persons whose goodness hath been of use to us, above their due desert. Since neither could our own labours have availed us, without God's blessing upon those labours ; nor could our friends have served us, except he, who vouchsafes to choose them for instruments of conveying his mercy to us, had not only furnished those friends with the ability, but inspired them with the inclination.
2. Hence we are likewise taught, where in particular to lay the inestimable benefit of our spiritual regeneration and salvation; that it is entirely owing to God, and an instance of his free and undeserved grace. This is true of the design and methods of it, with regard to mankind in general; and it is equally true of all the assistances and advantages for attaining it, afforded to each man in particular. The beginning, the progress, and the accomplishment of this glorious work, can
possible foundation or motive, in the merit of any, who are admitted to partake of it. For to every one of these is due the greatest misery that could happen, were he to be treated according to his deservings.
3. It is observable, that the Apostle assigns to the word of truth'a part in this work; and such a part, as intimates it to be the instrumental cause of our new and spiritual birth. Here, ordinarily speaking, the operation begins; and what sort of operation that is, and of how great consequence its efficacy, may be gathered from the directions which, upon mention of this word, the Apostle, in the three following verses, lays down for our behaviour with regard to it.
1. The first is, diligent endeavours to be instructed in this VOL. I.