« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
JAMES i. 26.
If any man among you seem to be religious, and bride leth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, that man's religion is vain.
F the many duties owing both to GoD and our neighbor, there are scarce any men so bad, as not to acquit themselves of some, and few so good, I fear, as to practise all.
Every man seems willing enough to compound the matter, and adopt so much of the system, as will least interfere with his principal and ruling passion; and for those parts, which would occasion a more troublesome opposition, to consider them as hard sayings, and so leave them for those to practise, whose natural tempers are better suited for the struggle. So that a man shall be covetous, oppressive, revengeful, neither a lover of truth, or common honesty, and yet, at the same time, shall be very religious, and so sanctified, as not once to fail of paying his morning and evening sacrifice to GOD. So, on the other hand, a man shall live without GoD in the world, have neither any great sense of religion, or indeed pretend to have any, and yet be of nicest honor, conscientiously just and fair in all his dealings. And here it is that men generally betray themselves, deceiving, as the apostle says, their own hearts Of which the instances are so various, in one degree or other throughout human life, that one might safely say, the bulk of mankind live in such a contradiction to themselves, that there is no character so ard to be met with, as one, which,
upon a critical examination, will appear altoge ther uniform, and, in every point, consistent with itself.
If such a contrast was only observable in the different stages of a man's life, it would cease to be either a matter of wonder, or of just reproach. Age, experience, and much reflection, may naturally enough be supposed to alter a man's sense of things, and so entirely to transform him, that, not only in outward appearances, but, in the very cast and turn of his mind, he may be as unlike and different from the man he was twenty or thirty years ago, as he ever was from any thing of his own species. This, I say, is naturally to be accounted for, and, in some cases, might be praiseworthy too: But the observation is to be made of men in the same period of their lives, that in the same day, sometimes in the very same action, they are utterly inconsistent and irreconcileable with themselves.-Look at a man in one light,and he shall seem wise, penetrating, discreet, and brave: Behold him in another point of view, and you see a creature all over folly and indiscretion, weak and timorous, as cowardice and indiscretion can make him. A man shall appear gentle, courteous, and benevolent to all mankind; follow him into his own house, may be you see a tyrant, morose and savage to all whose happiness depends upon his kindness. A third, in his general behavior, is found to be generous, disinterested, humane and friendly ;-Hear but the sad story of the friendless orphans, too credulously trusting all their little substance into his hands, and he shall appear more sordid, more pitiless and unjust, than the injured themselves have bitterness to paint him. Another shall be charitable to the poor, uncharitable in his censures and opinions of all the rest of the world besides ;-temperate in his appetites, intemperate in his tongue; shall have
too much conscience and religion to cheat the man who trusts him, and perhaps, as far as the business of debtor and creditor extends, shall be just and scrupulous to the uttermost mite; yet, in matters of full as great concern, where he is to have the handling of the party's reputation and good name, the dearest, the tenderest property the man has, he will do him irreparable damage, and rob him there without measure or pity.
And this seems to be that particular piece of inconsistency and contradiction which the text is levelled at; in which the words seem so pointed, as if St. James had known more flagrant instances of this kind of delusion, than what had fallen under the observation of any of the rest of the apostles; he being more remarkably vehement and copious upon that subject than any other.
Doubtless some of his converts had been notoriously wicked and licentious, in this remorseless practise of defamation and evil-speaking. Per haps the holy man, tho' spotless as an angel, (for no character is too sacred for calumny to blacken) had grievously suffered himself,-and, as his blessed Master foretold him, had been cruelly reviled and evil-spoken of.
All his labors in the gospel, his unaffected and perpetual solicitude, for the preservation of his flock, his watchings, his fastings, his poverty, his natural simplicity and innocence of life, all, perhaps, were not enough to defend him from this unruly weapon, so full of deadly poison. And, what, in all likelihood might move his sorrow and indignation more, some, who seemed the most devout and zealous of all his converts, were the most merciless and uncharitable in that respect; having a form of godliness, full of bitter envyings and strife.
With such it is that he expostulates so largely in the third chapter of his epistle; and there is VOL. III.
something in his vivacity, tempered with such af, fection and concern, as well suited the character of an inspired man. My brethren, says the apostle, these things ought not to be. The wisdom that is from above, is pure, peaceable, gentle, full of mercy, without partiality, without hypocrisy. The wisdom from above-that heavenly religion which I have preached to you, is pure, alike and consitent with itself in all its parts; like its great Author, it is universally kind and benevolent in all cases and circumstances. Its first glad-tidings were peace upon earth, good. will towards men. Its chief corner-stone, its most distinguishing character, is love, that kine principle which brought it down,-in the pure exercise of which, consists the chief enjoyment of heaven, from whence it came. But this practice, ' my brethren, cometh not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish, full of confusion and every evil work. Reflect then a moment-Can a fountain send forth, at the same place, sweet water and bitter? Can the fig-tree, my brethren, bear olive-berries, either a vine, figs? Lay your hands upon your hearts, and let your consciences speak, -Ought not the same just principle which restrains you from cruelty and wrong in one case, equally to withhold you from it in another? Should not charity and good-will, like the principle of life, circulating thro' the smallest vessels in every member,-ought it not to operate as regu larly upon you, throughout, as well upon your words, as upon your actions?
If a man is wise, and endowed with knowledge, let him show it, out of a good conversation, with meekness of wisdom. But-if any man amongst you seemeth to be religious—seemeth to be for truly religious he cannot be, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain-This is the full force of
St. James's reasoning; upon which I have dwelt the more, it being the foundation upon which is grounded this clear decision of the matter left us in the text; in which the apostle seems to have set the two characters of a saint and a slanderer at such variance, that one would have thought they could never have had a heart to have met toge ther again. But there are no alliances too strange for this world. How many may we observe every day, even of the gentler sex, as well as our own, who, without conviction of doing much wrong in the midst of a full career of calumny and defamation, rise up punctual at the stated hour of prayer, leave the cruel story half untold till they return, go, and kneel down before the throne of heaven, thank God that he had not made them like others, and that his Holy Spirit had enabled them to perform the duties of the day, in so Christian and conscientious a manner!
This delusive itch for slander, too common in all ranks of people, whether to gratify a little ungenerous resentment; whether, oftner, out of a principle of levelling, from a narrowness and poverty of soul, ever impatient of merit and superiority in others; whether, from a mean ambition, or the insatiate lust of being witty, (a talent in which ill-nature and malice are no ingredients); or, lastly, whether, from a natural cruelty of disposition, abstracted from all views and considerations of self: To which one, or whether to all jointly, we are indebted/for this contagious malady; thus much is certain, from whatever seeds it springs, the growth and progress of it are as destructive to, as they are unbecoming a civilized people. To pass a hard and ill-natured reflection upon an undesigning action; to invent,or, which is equally bad, to propagate a vexatious report, without color and grounds; to plunder an innocent man of his character and good name, a jewel which,