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JAMES I. 22-25.
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For, if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
THE apostle James seems to have especially intended his epistle as an antidote to the delusion of those who abused the doctrines of grace; and who, expecting salvation by a dead faith, considered good works as altogether superfluous. This may account for the remarkable difference between his language and that of St. Paul, who was chiefly employed in contending against such as ran into the opposite extreme. Having therefore shewn that temptations and sins must not be ascribed to God, the unchangeable giver of every good and perfect gift; and observed that the word of truth is the grand means of regenerating sinners, and rendering them willing to consecrate themselves to God; he gives some directions concerning the manner in which men hear and receive
the divine message, that it may be " in them an "engrafted word, able to save their souls." He then introduces the passage which I have chosen for the subject of our present meditation, and concludes with these remarkable words: "If any man
among you seem to be religious, and bridleth "not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart; "this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and "undefiled before God and the Father is this; to "visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, "and to keep himself unspotted from the world." The religion which God approves, when viewed apart from the principles whence it springs, and the ordinances through which it is produced and maintained, is chiefly manifested by self-denying kindness to men for the Lord's sake, and separation from all the pollutions of this evil world. "Now," says St. Paul, “abideth faith, hope, and charity; "but the greatest of these is charity."
The text viewed in this connexion, may give us an opportunity of considering,
I. The peculiar intent of revelation, and the purposes which it was evidently intended to
II. The inefficacy of hearing without practising, to accomplish any of these purposes:
III. The nature and sources of that fatal selfdeception into which numbers are in this respect betrayed:
IV. The contrast betwixt the mere hearer and the practical student of scripture.
I. We consider the peculiar intent of revelation, and the purposes which it was evidently intended to answer.
"The Lord made all things for himself," that in different ways they might manifest his glory. The inanimate creation, in every part, proclaims his wisdom, power, and goodness, and demonstrates his being and perfections. "The heavens declare "the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handy-work." Each of the animal tribes answers the end of its creation, and enjoys all the felicity of which it is capable; except as involved in the consequences of our sins. But rational creatures should glorify their Maker in a higher manner; being formed capable of understanding the display he has given of himself in his works, and of rendering him the reasonable service of adoration and obedience: in which, as connected with the ineffable enjoyment of his love, their genuine felicity consists. Yet, without at all considering the difference observable in men's characters, it is undeniable that all "have forsaken the fountain "of living waters and have hewn out for them"selves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no "water." This is the universal apostacy and idolatry of the human race: they are all " alienated "from the life of God." None seek their happiness in knowing, loving, obeying, and worshipping him; but all, if left to themselves, idolize the creatures, and expect felicity from the possession and enjoyment of them. It might easily be shown that this is the prolific source of all the vices and miseries of mankind, however varied and multiplied. The idolized objects of their several pursuits are unsuitable and insufficient for their happiness: moderate possession and use give not the expected satisfaction: and hence spring intem
perance and licentiousness, with all their dire effects. The devotees of riches, power, fame, or pleasure become rivals, and interfere with each other thus their malignant passions are excited, and they are tempted to the most destructive and atrocious crimes. The departure from God makes way likewise for rebellion, enmity to his perfections and government, and direct opposition to his commands and cause: and hence spring impiety, infidelity, atheism, superstition, every species of false religion, and every form of virulent persecution.
Thus man has forfeited his felicity in the favour. of God, incurred his awful displeasure, lost his own capacity of enjoying a happiness adequate to his desires, and rendered himself the slave of the vilest affections. And, as happiness is in its own nature one and unchangeable, he could by no means have avoided the most dreadful miseries, during the whole of his existence, had not his offended God brought "life" and felicity, as well as "immortality, to light by the gospel."
It is therefore the especial intent of revelation, to make the one living and true God known to his apostate creatures, in the mysteries and perfections of his nature, as far as necessary; in the righteousness of his law and government; and in his readiness to shew mercy and confer happiness even on rebellious man. It was evidently the design of the Lord to bring us back to himself; to provide for the pardon of our sins, and to give us a title to eternal life, in a way honourable to his perfections; to reduce us to a proper disposition of mind, that we might thankfully receive these blessings and make due returns for them; to effect a cordial
reconciliation between himself, the great and glorious Creator, and us rebellious creatures; and to teach us to love, reverence, worship, and obey him, that, being renewed to his holy image, we might enjoy true happiness for evermore in his favour and service.
Revelation was also intended to train up a people, who might be the instruments of God in promoting his cause among men ; in alleviating and counteracting the miseries and mischiefs of the world; and in doing good to one another, till their removal to a state of perfect holiness and felicity. Finally it was designed to bring fallen men to that blessed state; that being made equal with the angels, they might for ever unite with them in the most sublime worship and delightful service of their infinitely glorious Benefactor.
Now, if these are the special ends and purposes of revelation, as every impartial and diligent inquirer must be convinced they are, we may readily see,
II. The inefficacy of hearing without practising, to accomplish any one of them.
But the importance of the subject is inexpressible, and demands a more particular investigation. The apostle supposes in the text, that the persons he addressed did hear the word of truth, and not false doctrine: for, the more deeply men are impressed by erroneous sentiments, and the more entirely these become practical principles, the greater mischief is done; as such deluded persons are inflated with pride, buoyed up in self-confidence, and encouraged in gratifying their corrupt passions even as a part of their religion. These are the produce of the "tares," which the enemy