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This Apostle seems particularly to affect easy and familiar illustrations. The whole epistle abounds with them. He compares certain hearers of the word to persons beholding themselves in a glass, and then forgetting what manner of persons they were. Those who have a dead and unproductive faith he compares to persons who speak kind words to an indigent brother or sister without relieving their necessities. Those who govern not their tongue he reproves, by contrasting their conduct with horses that obey the bit; with ships that are turned by a helm; with beasts, birds, and even fishes of the sea, all of which have been tamed by men: and by warning them, that as no fountain can send forth sweet water and bitter, and no tree bear both olives and figs, so they can be no true Christians, whilst such unworthy and inconsistent speeches issue from their mouths. Here in our text he brings to our view the husbandman, whose continued labours and patient expectations form a fit model for the Christian. Him we are called to resemble,
1. In a steady prosecution of the appointed means
[Many are the discouragements which the husbandman meets with in the cultivation of his ground. Sometimes the weather is untoward: sometimes blights, or insects, or mildew, injure his crops: sometimes drought almost destroys all his hopes : but still he goes on from year to year, ploughing his ground, clearing it from weeds, manuring it, casting in his seed, and harrowing it; and this he does, not knowing for certain that a single grain which he casts into the furrows shall rise again. But he expects nothing without the use of means; and therefore he does his part; and that too as regularly and diligently as if every thing depended on himself. He well knows that God alone can give rain, or cause the sun to shine, or give power to the seed which he has sown to spring up: but still he labours, that he may not fail through any neglect of his own.
Now in this he is a pattern for all Christians. They have their work to do. True, they cannot ensure success : but they know that it is in the use, and not in the neglect, of the appointed means, that God will bless them: and therefore they are labouring as assiduously as if every thing depended on themselves. Behold them in secret : they read the Scriptures with diligence: they pray over them with earnestness: they set themselves to mortify their evil propensities, and to fulfil their duties both to God and man. Observe them at all times, and you will see, that they are in earnest for heaven. When you go into the fields, and see the husbandman ploughing, manuring, sowing, harrowing, weeding his ground, you will never hesitate a moment to say, that he has the harvest in view. So, see the Christian from day to day, and you will without fail remark, that he has heaven in view, and that he is preparing for a future harvest.] 2. In a patient expectation of the desired end
[Many months intervene between the seed-time and the harvest: but the husbandman waits with patience. It is some time before the seed springs up from under the clods: but he waits for it, and for “the former rain," which alone can call forth its vegetative powers. Its growth is afterwards impeded by drought: but still he waits for the latter rain, without which the corn can never come to maturity. There may be many alternations of hope and fear: but he commits the matter to the Lord, and waits the destined time, in expectation that God will give him to see, in an abundant increase, the fruit of his labours. So the Christian must wait upon things he will meet with to try his faith and patience : but he must commit them all to the Lord, not doubting but that God will give him “strength according to his day," and cause “all events to work together for his good.” As the husbandman knows that a few months will bring the appointed harvest; so the Christian knows, that his Lord is quickly coming, and “ will not tarry beyond the appointed time:" and for that time he must wait; fully assured, that the harvest which he shall then reap will amply repay all his cares and all his toil.
This then, Christian, is the pattern you are to follow: you must be “steadfast, and immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; and then you are assured, that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.”] Learn then from hence, 1. How to estimate your true character
[The Apostle addresses those whom he is exhorting by the endearing name of “ brethren:” for they are all children of one common Father, even of God himself. Now, whereinsoever they differ from each other, they all agree in this: the true child of God is engaged in a work, which demands, and in which he puts forth, all his energies. In it he is occupied throughout the year. He consults not the clouds, to know whether he shall plough and sow his ground: he knows
his God: many
that the work must be done, and he engages in it in a humble dependence on his God: and he looks to the future judgment, as the period when all his labours shall be compensated, and his hopes fulfilled. Now, I would ask, would every one that sees you, know you by these marks? The husbandman, without intending to attract notice, discovers to all, his views, his occupations, his desires. Are yours also in like manner apparent to all who behold your life and conversation! Doubtless your daily calls of duty are not so visible to every observer: but upon the whole, the great scope and end of your life is not a whit less visible to all who are round about you. Here then you may easily ascertain your own character. If eternity be not ever in your view; if all you do have not a reference to it; if you be not willing both to do and suffer every thing that may conduce to your future welfare; and if you be not
looking for, and hasting unto, the coming of the day of Christ," as to the period for the completion of all your wishes, you do not belong to this holy family: you may call yourselves Christians ; but you are not Christians indeed. We read of those who “ said that they were Jews, and did lie:” so you say that you are Christians; but your whole conduct gives the lie to your profession. If you are Christians in deed and in truth,
your works of faith, and labours of love, and patience of hope, are known to all ;” and they vouch for you, that“ you are the elect," the children of the living God!] 2. How to anticipate your certain end
[All imagine that they are going to heaven; and will not be persuaded to the contrary. But, if you have ears to hear, and hearts to understand, you shall know this day whether you are going to heaven or to hell. Ask yonder husbandman: * Have you been ploughing and sowing your ground this year?'
No; I have had other things to do.'— And do you expect a harvest ?' 'Yes, I shall have as good a crop as any of my neighbours.'— But do you think that you shall obtain the end without the means ?' Tell me not about means and end: others give themselves a great deal of unnecessary trouble : and I shall have as good a crop as my neighbours: nor shall any one persuade me to the contrary.'
Now what, suppose you, will be the issue? Will the event accord with this man's expectations ? Will he not, when the time of harvest comes, find that his confidence has been delusive; and that his barns are empty, whilst the granaries of others are filled with store? Then I
shall be your own judges. If you can form a doubt about the issue of that man's confidence, especially when it is repeated for many
f 1 Thess. i. 3, 4.
years together, then I will be content that you shall buoy up yourselves with the hopes of heaven, though you never use any means to obtain it. But if you have no doubt about that man's folly, then see in it a just picture of your own.
Behold then, I declare to all of you, that the means must be used in order to the end. You must repent, “ ploughing up your fallow ground,” and “ sowing in tears” of deep contrition. You must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the only Saviour of sinners; and must look to him for “ the former and the latter rain," whereby alone the seed of the word can live and grow in your souls. Lastly, you must make it the one labour of your life to prepare for his second coming, that you may give up your account to him with joy and not with grief
. If you thus “go on your way weeping, bearing precious seed, you shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing your sheaves with you 8 :" but if you act not thus, know that you shall reap according to what you sow. “He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption ; whilst he who soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting."] 8 Ps. cxxvi. 5, 6.
h Gal. vi. 7, 8.
NEARNESS OF JUDGMENT.
Jam. v. 9. Behold! the Judge standeth before the door.
Of the Day of Judgment there is frequent mention in the New Testament: and so strongly was the idea of it realized in the minds of the inspired writers, that they conveyed to the Church, unintentionally on their parts, an expectation of its speedy arrival. This arose indeed, in part, from our blessed Lord himself having blended his description of it with a prediction of the judgments which impended over Jerusalem, and which were to be inflicted upon it before that generation should have passed away“. Yet, when there was no reference to the destruction of the Jewish polity, the language used respecting it was often exceeding strong. St. Paul, in his first Epistle to the Thessalonians, thus expresses himself: “ This we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we who are alive, and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord b.” We wonder not that some should mistake his meaning, as we find they did, insomuch that, in his next epistle, he was constrained to rectify their misapprehension of his words, and to bring to their recollection, that he had before told them of many important events, which would occur previous to the arrival of that day. St. James speaks of that period in terms of similar aspect with those of the Apostle Paul : “ The coming of the Lord draweth nighd :” and again, “ The Judge standeth before the door.” Whether, in these passages, St. James had any reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, I cannot exactly say: it is possible he might; because it would be some consolation to the suffering Christians to know that their oppressors would soon be disarmed of their power: but, beyond a doubt, he chiefly refers to the time appointed for the future judgment; when all the inequalities of this present state will be done away, and every person receive a suitable recompence, according to the injuries he has either inflicted or sustained. In this view, the Apostle says, “ Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned :” that is, vent not your indignation against an oppressor, no, not even in an inarticulate sound, lest the same judgment come on you which you would be ready to inflict on him : but leave the matter to your Almighty Judge, who standeth before the door,” ready to
a Matt. xxiv. 29–35.