Great Texts of the Bible
The Good Gifts of the Father
Every good gift and every perfect boon is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.—Jam 1:17.
The Bible is full of truths which from their very obviousness are never realized: truths which to a religious mind are self-evident, incontrovertible, not susceptible of proof, lying so deep at the root of all our religious convictions that we never think of pausing to examine them; we take them for granted; they are our axioms of religion. But in taking them for granted, we also lose much; when they meet us in our reading or hearing of Scripture, they are apt to fall dead on our ear; we attach but a vague meaning to them; we never perhaps interpret them to ourselves. Our text is just such an axiom of religion. It is the case with this, as with all very comprehensive truths, that it is accepted readily enough as a general principle; but when it steps down from the region of general law to the sphere of particular application, we are startled to find how little we have hitherto understood, and how little we have really believed it.
“Every good gift and every perfect boon.”
1. Every good gift and every perfect boon. Some commentators draw a distinction between gift or giving and boon, as if the former referred to temporal gifts and the latter to spiritual gifts, but this is unnecessary. Such a distinction was probably not in the mind of the writer. He probably did not draw a hard and fast line between a good gift and a perfect boon, but meant the second term to continue and supplement the first. We may consider the gifts of God under the two headings “temporal” and “spiritual” gifts, but only because they form convenient divisions, not because we would make an arbitrary distinction between good gifts and perfect boons.
(1) Every temporal blessing, then, comes from God. All the good that comes to us in this life is a gift from above, and we may not consider any of God’s gifts as insignificant, whether our daily bread, or our rest at night, any hour of well-being, or week of blessed work, or enjoyment of all that is beautiful in nature and art, or the joys of home, the love of our family and the faithfulness of friends; in short, anything that is treasured by man as a happiness or a blessing.
(2) No one can read Holy Scripture without being struck by the variety of gifts which are bestowed by God. It was He who breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life, so that man became a living soul. Wherever we see life—life in the plant, or in the bird that sings to us, or in the little child that is playing in our nurseries—there we see the handiwork of God. He makes men able to seek out curious inventions, and gives us also what is beautiful and wonderful in art. We are told that it was the direct inspiration of God that wrought in the artisans of tabernacle and temple, and made them cunning architects to build houses for God, fragrant with cedar, and beautiful with colour, and bright with ornaments of gold. And that same Spirit who gives us our treasures of art gives also what is beautiful in action. It was He who inspired in David his courage, and who gave to Samson his strength, and filled Gideon with his spirit of patriotism, and gave to Solomon his understanding heart. There are diversities of gifts. To some men God gives the ability to work miracles of healing; to others He gives the power of great inventiveness; to others skill to discover and interpret the secrets of nature; to others eloquence; to others perhaps the best gift of all, the pure and simple heart. But in all these worketh the self-same Spirit of God, dividing to every man severally as He will.
(3) God does not give us only temporal gifts. Man does not live by bread alone, or by art or science, or the culture of his mind, or the successful use of his talents. He does not live either by the happiness of his home, or by honour in the sight of other men. He lives also by the spiritual graces of God.
There is the gift of His Holy Spirit to those who earnestly desire and ask for it, to illumine our minds, to sanctify our hearts, to purify our sinful nature, to work in us Christian graces of disposition. There is the gift of His Holy Word to be the light to our feet, and the lamp to our path—“the engrafted word, which is able to save our souls.” There is the gift of regeneration in the waters of Baptism, developed by after gifts of the Spirit into that renewal of our nature by which we become dead unto sin and new creatures in Christ Jesus. Shall we not add the blessing of a changed, converted heart; of an awakened, serious mind; of a tender, sensitive conscience? There is the privilege of access to God through Christ in prayer; the blessing of answered prayer. There is the gift of spiritual strength by which we are enabled to resist temptation; of faith by which we overcome the world; of all those various graces which adorn the soul and are the varied developments of God’s Spirit.
But God’s greatest and most glorious gift is the gift of His beloved and only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. It is only in Christ Jesus that all these heavenly gifts and graces are ours—sins forgiven, hearts renewed, righteousness and adoption, honour and immortality, an inheritance incorruptible, and an eternal weight of glory.
In the prayer-meeting I am expounding the 103rd Psalm. The psalm is a delightful study. Have you ever made a list of the blessings the psalmist praises God for? Just think of it: Forgiveness, soul-healing, redemption, coronation, satisfaction, perpetual youth, justice, revelation, mercy, tenderness, pity, and so on. No wonder when we think of it we need “all that is within us” to praise.1 [Note: George H. C. Macgregor, 121.]
2. God sends only good gifts. The words of the text were spoken, as the context shows, to refute and rebuke the notion that God may tempt to evil. And they accomplish their object by describing God as One who not only gives all good, but who gives, and from His very nature can give, only good; whose “giving” always and necessarily is solely for good; whose “boons,” seeing that they must be like Himself, can have no faults in them. His gifts may be abused, but the abuse is no part of the gifts; the goods He confers may become the occasion of temptations to evil, but as He cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man; in spite of the light from heaven we may stray, but the light from heaven never leads astray. God gives only good, never evil, as the sun gives only light, never darkness.
Is everything God gives us good? Does He not give us trials, sorrows, separations, sickness, bereavement, death? Are these good gifts? Yes, as they came from Him they were “good.” If they are bad, it is we who make them bad. They have all a loving intention, and a loving power in them, and they are all to make, if not a present, yet a certain future of greater happiness. I feel sure we shall, one day, place highest among “the good gifts,” as the very best gifts we have ever had, our heaviest trials, and our severest losses.1 [Note: James Vaughan.]
I asked for bread; God gave a stone instead.
Yet, while I pillowed there my weary head,
The angels made a ladder of my dreams,
Which upward to celestial mountains led.
And, when I woke beneath the morning’s beams,
Around my resting place fresh manna lay;
And, praising God, I went upon my way.
For I was fed.
God answers prayer; sometimes, when hearts are weak,
He gives the very gifts believers seek.
But often faith must learn a deeper rest,
And trust God’s silence when He does not speak;
For He whose name is Love will send the best.
Stars may burn out, nor mountain walls endure,
But God is true, His promises are sure
To those who seek.
“Every good gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”
1. These words plainly state that all good and perfect gifts come from one and the same source—that every good gift and every perfect boon has its origin beyond time, beyond earth and man, beyond all secondary and creaturely causes, in the Eternal Uncreated Divine First Cause—that all physical beauties, all providential bounties, all gracious influences, all that is true, all that is lovely, all that is pure and righteous and holy, all genuine satisfactions, all real blessings, are from the all-perfect and all-loving Father in whom we and all things live and move and have our being. As all rays of sunlight issue from the sun, so all good gifts are bestowed by the one good Giver. The sun in the heavens ever raying forth light and heat, and so beautifying and nourishing all nature, is an emblem of God and His giving; but bright and glorious although it be, it is only a feeble and inadequate emblem. God is all light, pure light; has no darkness or shadow in Himself; can have no darkness or shadow pass over Him; and His light shines, His good and perfect gifts flow forth from Him, without interruption, without cessation.
The rising sun first illumines the loftiest mountain top, and then the light creeps down from the higher to the lower levels, and at last fills all the valleys with its radiance. In some remote primitive parts of Switzerland a man stands at early dawn on a rising ground near his village, and when he sees the highest snowy peak flushing red with the first rays of the sun, he sounds his alpine horn, and all in the neighbourhood who hear it know that a new day has begun, and they prepare to go forth to their labours.1 [Note: H. Macmillan, The Gate Beautiful, 224.]
2. “Every man,” says Solomon, “is a friend to him that giveth gifts.” How then, we may ask, is it that God, the Giver of all good gifts, has not more friends on earth? The reason is that we do not remember God’s mercies and are not sufficiently grateful for them. But God does not cease giving because we forget the Giver. He gives as a father to his children.
(1) The “Father of lights” is not too high above the earth to remember His children. It is the good pleasure of the Father to give to His children. He does not bargain with them—so much blessing for so much service. He gives, and gives freely and liberally, all that we need. He is the all-wise and the all-loving God, and therefore He can give only the perfect things—that which is best fitted to make us truly blessed. He does not give capriciously or by partiality, bestowing upon one and withholding from another. He knows the things that we need, and He will give them to us; not a stone but bread for our hunger, not a serpent but an egg for our feast.
Good tidings every day.
God’s messengers ride fast.
We do not hear one half they say,
There is such noise on the highway,
Where we must wait till they ride past.
Their hands throw treasures round
Among the multitude.
No pause, no choice, no count, no bound,
No questioning how men are found,
If they be evil or be good.
And of the multitude,
No man but in his hand
Holds some great gift misunderstood,
Some treasure, for whose use or good
His ignorance sees no demand.
These are the tokens lent
Birth-marks of our divine descent;
Sureties of ultimate intent,
God’s gospel of Eternity.1 [Note: Saxe Holm.]
(2) We receive many of our blessings as a matter of course, blessings from a Father’s hand, which we have received in the weakness of infancy, throughout our manhood and womanhood; strewn along the path of our more mature life, showered down upon us with unchanging constancy in our old age. What delights the Father is our coming and asking. “Ye receive not,” says St. James, “because ye ask not.”
Good must be voluntarily accepted. We must make it clear that we want it. There had been ten preparatory days of prayer before the promise of the Pentecost could be fulfilled. And it has invariably been observed that, whenever a great outpouring of spiritual blessing has been experienced, the gift has been preceded by a stirring of strong desire in those who knew the value of prayer.2 [Note: A. W. Robinson, The Voice of Joy and Health, 82.]
“When, Sir Walter,” said Queen Elizabeth to that gallant knight, Raleigh, who was persistently interceding for offenders, “when will you cease to be a beggar?” “When your Majesty will cease to be a benefactor,” was the reply.
3. Everything that is good in the world and humanity, and in the individual soul, everything that is in the truest sense a boon, is a gift of God, and comes down from the perfect source of all goodness, and is a reflection of the “Father of lights.” Here, surely, is a message of hope concerning ourselves, and concerning others.
(1) First, concerning ourselves.—Until we have abandoned everything that is right and good and true, God has not abandoned us; there is something of His—shall we not indeed say something of Him?—in us, and He has a hold upon us by means of it. Most of us are conscious of the evil that is in us; it is not often that we need to be reminded of it, it is our despair. For that reason we need to be reminded that there is something pure and noble left, and that that is God’s gift, the point in our lives at which He touches us; if we would but believe it, that is our assurance that God refuses to let us go. If we realize that God has been constantly at work in us, and is at work in us now, that we are not God-forsaken, we shall be more ready than otherwise we should be to abandon ourselves completely to God’s influence and control in the way that He desires. We are not required to summon to our aid one who is a stranger and afar off, who may or may not come at our call, but rather to suffer God, who holds us now in part, to take charge of the whole—to yield our wills and hearts to the Divine promptings within us, and to permit His power to spread over and possess the whole life.
The power to set the heart right, to renew the springs of action, comes from Christ. The sense of the infinite worth of the single soul, and the recoverableness of a man at his worst, are the gifts of Christ.1 [Note: Henry Drummond, 7.]
So thou alone dost walk before
Thy God with perfect aim,
From Him desiring nothing more
Beside Himself to claim.
For if thou not to Him aspire,
But to His gifts alone,
Not Love, but covetous desire,
Has brought thee to His throne.
While such thy prayer, it mounts above
In vain; the golden key
Of God’s rich treasure-house of love,
Thine own will never be.1 [Note: R. C. Trench, Poems, 280.]
(2) Second, concerning our fellow-men.—The gifts received by us from God are received only to be held in trust. It is the mission of us all to bring to souls that are less illumined than our own the light that is in us, and the light that is in them, even though it be but as the faint flicker of a candle, will leap to meet the brighter one which we bring, and by the union of our light and theirs the darkness will be driven away. There is something in each soul to which some messenger from God can appeal, and, appealing, may obtain a response.
The gifts of the good things of this life are given in order that we may “have to give to him that needeth,” and unless we share them with others they will eat, as this Apostle tells us, “into our souls as doth a canker.” And the gifts of grace are given that we may diffuse them. Have we gifts of knowledge? It is that we may impart that knowledge to others. Have we the gifts of wisdom? It is in order that we may raise all about us to a higher level. They are assuredly given to us that we may let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven.
Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,
Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, ’twere all alike
As if we had them not.
Therefore, if you let me guide you, go in at this south transept door, and put a sou into every beggar’s box who asks it there,—it is none of your business whether they should be there or not, nor whether they deserve to have the sou,—be sure only that you yourself deserve to have it to give; and give it prettily, and not as if it burnt your fingers.2 [Note: Ruskin, The Bible of Amiens (Works, xxxiii. 129).]
It is incredible, absolutely incredible, that the handful of men who enjoy the richness of God’s gifts at a University can be given them merely for themselves. Is it possible to contemplate Cambridge apart from East London, South London, Africa, or the Congo? To a believer in God it is impossible. God has no favourites, and there is no way of keeping your belief in an entirely good and loving God, unless He means His reservoirs to overflow, unless He gives to the whole human race, indirectly if not directly, and unless, while He pours His blessings down upon one place, and seems to neglect another, it is only in seeming, because, while He gives to the one, He is really giving, unless we scandalously neglect our duty, also to the other.1 [Note: A. F. W. Ingram, Into the Fighting Line, 229.]
The Good Gifts of the Father
Archer-Hind (T. H.), Some Scripture Problems, 22.
Carpenter (W. B.), The Wisdom of James the Just, 119.
Darlow (T. H.), The Upward Calling, 182.
Flint (R.), Sermons and Addresses, 28.
Gibbons (J. C.), Discourses and Sermons, 241.
Grimley (H. N.), The Temple of Humanity, 91.
Hickey (F. P.), Short Sermons, ii. 102.
How (W. W.), Plain Words, ii. 128.
Ingram (A. F. W.), Into the Fighting Line, 217.
Kingsley (C.), Village, Town and Country Sermons, 25.
Little (W. J. K.), Labour and Sorrow, 184.
Macmillan (H.), The Gate Beautiful, 222.
Momerie (A. W.), The Origin of Evil, 259.
Peabody (F. G.), Mornings in the College Chapel, i. 217.
Pigou (F.), Faith and Practice, 203.
Sauter (B.), The Sunday Epistles, 261.
Scott (M.), The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles and Gospels, 123.
Trench (R. C.), Sermons New and Old, 163.
Trench (R. C.), Sermons in Ireland, 269.
Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), xxii. (1883) No. 1226.
Wilkinson (G. H.), The Heavenly Vision, 110, 153, 165.
Wilson (S. L.), Helpful Words for Daily Life, 165.
Zahn (T.), Bread and Salt from the Word of God, 167.
Christian World Pulpit, xiii. 337 (Farrar); xli. 164 (Turberville); lx. 372 (Harrison).
Church of England Pulpit, xxx. 148 (Kaye); xxxvii. 77 (Silvester).
Church Pulpit Year Book, ix. (1912) 121.
Church Times, Aug. 16, 1912 (Newbolt).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Fourth Sunday after Easter: viii. 182 (Mitchinson), 185 (Farquhar).
Examiner, June 7, 1906, p. 558 (Jowett).
Expositor, 2nd Ser., iii. 221 (Lumby).