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Lord, I will not hearken unto it??" Our blessed Lord has told us what he will say to such persons in the last day : hither those that were mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me.” “ Those who knew not their Lord's will," and sinned through ignorance, are chargeable with guilt, and will be visited with punishment; because they had the means of instruction, and did not diligently improve them: but if “ the servant who knew not his Lord's will shall be beaten with few stripes, be assured, that the servant who knew his Lord's will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes m."]
Verily this is a solemn truth, and deeply to be weighed by every child of man. Let me therefore proceed, II. To suggest some reflections arising out of it,
Who that duly considers it must not see,
1. What ground we all have for humiliation before God
[I will suppose that we have never committed any enormous sin, and that in respect of the letter of the law we have been as blameless as ever Paul was previous to his conversion: still, are we not sinners? There has been no doubt on any of our minds whether we had occasion for the acknowledged duties of repentance, faith, and obedience: but have we diligently performed these duties? Have we from day to day humbled ourselves before God, and wept in dust and ashes? Have we laboured to find out all our past transgressions, to spread them before God with penitential sorrow, and to implore with all earnestness the remission of them? Have we fled to the Lord Jesus Christ for refuge, as to the hope that is set before us? Have we pleaded before God the merit of his sacrifice, and sprinkled our souls with his allatoning blood? Is this the daily habit of our minds; and the only source of peace to our souls ?
And have we given up ourselves to God without reserve, to fulfil his every command, and to live altogether to his glory? Do we for this end study his blessed word with all diligence, that we may know his mind? and do we labour incessantly to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God?” We have known these things to be right; but have we done them? Can we appeal to the heart-searching God, that this has been, and yet is, the daily tenour of our lives? Must we not rather acknowledge, that no one day of our lives has been so occupied with these duties as it ought to have been? Then we are sinners, “ sinners before the Lord exceedinglyn:" and, if we turn not to God in newness of life, we shall speedily become monuments of his wrath and fiery indignation.]
I Jer. xliv. 16.
m Luke xii. 47, 48.
2. The folly of seeking salvation by any righteousness of our own
[I will not only grant, as before, that we are free from any gross sins, but I will admit, that we have done a great deal that was good and praiseworthy. But how shall we get rid of this immense load of guilt which we have contracted by our wilful and habitual neglects? Our good deeds, admitting that we have performed some, have been only occasional: whereas our neglects have been continual, from the first moment that we began to be capable of acting. Our good deeds have all been marred with imperfections; but our neglects have had in them no mixture of good: they were pure and unmixed evil; and in comparison of them, any good that we do is lighter than dust upon the balance. In truth, no man who reflected a moment on my text could any more entertain a hope of being justified by any righteousness of his own, than he could form a purpose to create a world. He would see, that, whilst he was doing those very works on which he was inclined to build his hopes, the weakness and defectiveness of his exertions infinitely outweighed any merit which they might be supposed to have; and rendered his works a just ground for condemnation, rather than of justification before God. Bear in mind then the declaration before us; and limit not your views to sins of commission, but extend them to sins of omission: and then you will no longer hesitate to renounce all hope in yourselves, but will say with the Apostle Paul, “ I desire to be found in Christ, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith'."]
3. The improvement which we should make of divine ordinances
[We should not come to the house of God merely to satisfy conscience and to perform a duty, but really to get instruction respecting the mind and will of God. A mariner about to navigate a ship, and having the assistance of a skilful builder to examine whether she was in a state fit for sea, would not listen to his observations as a mere matter of curiosity or amusement, nor would he shut his eyes to any defects that were pointed out: his object would be, to find out defects, in order to their being remedied: and if only a doubt were suggested, he would endeavour to ascertain how far there was any foundation for it. He would say, I am about to commit my life and property to this vessel, and I must not stay till I am got into the midst of the ocean before I search into her state: it will be too late to do that when I am in the midst of a storm: I must do it now, before I go on board. Precisely in this way should you come up to the house of God. You are about to embark for eternity: and the instructions given by your minister are intended to point out every defect in your vessel, in order to its being remedied in time. Shut not then your ears to his instructions; and close not your eyes to your defects: but bless God for every assistance which you can obtain in a matter of such infinite importance, and endeavour to improve it for the salvation of your soul. In particular, search out your defects ; and cry mightily to God to pardon them for the Redeemer's sake, and to repair them by the influences of his good Spirit: so may you hope to navigate in safety this tempestuous ocean; and in due season to “ have an abundant entrance” into the haven of eternal bliss.]
n Gen. xiii. 13.
o Phil. iii. 9.
PATIENT PERSEVERANCE URGED.
Jam. v. 7, 8. Be patient, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.
Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient ; stablish your hearts : : for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.
CHRISTIANITY, even in the apostolic age, was professed by multitudes who neither understood its doctrines nor obeyed its precepts. The great and fundamental doctrine of justification by faith was denied by some, and abused by others; who took occasion from it to “turn the grace of God into licentiousness,” and to “ continue in sin that grace might abound.” To this latter class more especially St. James directed his epistle. He did indeed write to the unbelieving Jews also: for his epistle is addressed “ To the twelve tribes who were scattered abroad :” and, as they were in no state to receive such affectionate salutations as are observable in the
epistles which were addressed to Christians only, he contented himself with merely sending to them
greetinga.” There were indeed many truly pious persons who were suffering for the truth's sake; and these he sought to comfort and encourage. The foregoing part of this chapter seems addressed to the former; the text and following verses to the latter. We cannot conceive that the oppressive and murderous conduct which he lays to the charge of some, could admit of their being numbered with the Church of God. But their cruelties rendered the path of the true Christians who were among them far more difficult : and therefore, after warning those who were so grossly violating every principle of common morality, he encourages the suffering Christians to persevere in a patient discharge of their duty, and in an assured expectation of recompence at the coming of their Lord.
We shall consider the injunction which he gives them in a two-fold view ; I. In reference to the terms by which it is ex
pressedThese are strong and energetic. Twice he says, “ Be patient;" that is, bear with all long-suffering the trials that are come upon you : and then he adds, “Stablish your hearts ;" let them be so firmly fixed, that nothing may ever shake them.
Now from these expressions we gain a very considerable insight into Christianity: we see, that, 1. It exposes us to heavy trials
[No man could profess Christianity at its first establishment, but at the peril of his life: thousands and myriads being called to seal the truth with their blood. If the same persecutions be not experienced at this day, let us not imagine that they have therefore ceased: for it is as true at this day as it was in the apostolic age, that “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” And every man now, as well as then, must be prepared to lay down his life for Christ, if he will be acknowledged as "a disciple indeed.” Nor let it be thought that the persecutions of the present day are so very light. It is no easy thing for flesh and blood to withstand the hatred, and contempt, and ridicule to which he will be assuredly exposed, if he set himself in earnest to serve the Lord. The fear of these consequences is abundantly sufficient to deter multitudes from embracing the Gospel, and to turn back multitudes after they have embraced it. True it is, that all are not exposed to these things in an equal degree: but every follower of Christ must have his cross to bear, and be conformed to his Divine Master in sufferings, before he can be made like him in gloryb.] 2. It calls for great exertions
a Jam. i. 1.
[Religion is the same that it ever was, and calls for the same efforts on the part of all who embrace it. A race is not won at this day without exertion; nor does a wrestler overcome a strong antagonist without effort: nor a man engaged in warfare obtain a triumph without labour. Our spiritual enemies are as strong as ever: sin is not subdued and mortified by listless endeavours; nor is Satan defeated without much watchfulness and prayer. The whole man must be engaged. We must summon to the conflict all our faculties and powers; yea, such are the efforts required, that, if we be not strengthened by that same almighty power which raised Jesus Christ from the dead, we can never prevail. ] 3. It requires incessant efforts even to the end
[There is to be no period when we are to give way either to impatience or sloth. However long our trials may continue, we are “in patience to possess our souls:” and however difficult the path of duty may be, we are
never to be
in well-doing.” God should be able to say of us, as he does of the Church of Ephesus, “ Thou hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and not fainted 4.” This in particular is intimated in our text. It is supposed that the trials are long, and heavy, and calculated to turn us from the faith: and hence it is necessary that we “ be longsuffering," and that our "souls be established with grace. is in this way only that we can finally prevail: for to those only who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, will eternal life be adjudged ®.]
To enter fully into the Apostle's exhortation, we must consider it, II. In reference to the comparison with which it is
d Rev. ii. 3.
e Rom. ij. 7.