Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
The lesson of Advent is a twofold one. It is a lesson of watchfulness; it is also a lesson of patience. They are the two contrasted tones heard all through that solemn discourse upon the Mount of Olives from which, as "in a glass, darkly," through parable and figure, we have learned all that we can ever learn of that—
"Far-off Divine event
To which the whole creation moves."
I. Patience is a lesson which we all need. We need it in the heat and eagerness of youth; we need it in the more firmly held purposes and severer tempers of manhood; we need it in forming our opinions and in ordering our lives, in judging our friends, in judging our enemies, in judging ourselves; we need it in our selfish plans and in our unselfish ones also. Impatience wears many disguises. It is indeed nearly related to several virtues; but the near relations of virtues are often not virtues themselves. To one it bears the appearance of frankness, which says out what others feel, which has no time or care to soften wholesome, if unpleasant, truth; to another it seems like proper spirit, resenting what should be resented, chafing at officious criticism, claiming a man's freedom in thinking and judging; to still another it seems the expression of energy, or zeal, or fearlessness, pushing on when others hesitate, making light of imaginary obstacles, so intent on a great end as to have no time for minute consideration of the means. In the smallest spheres of life, in little societies, in the family, in the individual soul, impatience destroys peace, takes its happiness from effort, wears out prematurely hearts which, if this poison were absent, would bear and do great things in God's service.
II. I suggest three points in respect of which especially the New Testament bids us connect the lesson of patience with the thoughts of the Second Advent: (1) Judging. "Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come." "Let your moderation" (your fairness, largeness, gentleness of judging) "be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand." Our Lord puts it in one word, not as a counsel of perfection, not as what in all cases we can actually do, but as an aim, an ideal, a warning: "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged." We should make allowance, look always on the best side, hope all things, believe all things. "He hath committed all judgment unto the Son, because He is the Son of man." (2) Bearing. Think how many times in the Epistles we hear the words "patience," "endurance," and almost always in the context, either in word or in thought, is the remembrance of this limit, this great hope, in which men can stand firm. Our trials are very various; they vary with our years, our circumstances, our temperament. "The heart knoweth its own bitterness," but the great sweetener to all may be the thought that God knows it too; that He is disciplining us for the day when He comes to "restore all things," to "bind up the broken-hearted," when "all sorrow and sighing shall flee away." (3) Waiting. "O tarry thou the Lord's leisure," sings the Psalmist; "the patient waiting for Christ," is St. Paul's last word to the Thessalonians. Both of them knew that to anxious and eager hearts it was one of the hardest of lessons; but peace cannot be had unless it be learnt, nor true strength.
E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 278.
References: Jam 5:7, Jam 5:8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii., No. 1025; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 308; Ibid., vol. xiv., p. 88; E. H. Palmer, Ibid., p. 269. Jam 5:7; Jam 5:11.—Homilist, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 86. Jam 5:11.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi., No. 1845; T. B. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 376; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 269; vol. iii., pp. 287, 326.
I. The character here given to God: "The Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy." (1) "Pitiful." Pity is a feeling for, a feeling with, the distressed. The pity of God is of high quality and eminent degree. (2) "Of tender mercy." It is kindness to the sinful, to the guilty and undeserving and ill-deserving. Tender mercy is mercy easily excited, not like a flow of water produced by machinery, but like a stream of water from a spring or well. The merciful Father is of tender mercy, and the tenderness of that mercy has not been produced by Christ; it is, on the other hand, expressed and manifested by Christ.
II. The character manifested. Observe the unfolding of this beauteous and glorious character. God has a purpose in all the afflictions of His saints, which when developed reveals God as very pitiful and of tender mercy. (1) Here, then, is something to believe. (2) Here is something to be ultimately seen: the end of the Lord. To be seen, there is the coming out of tribulation; to be seen, the being better and more happy for that tribulation; the comparison between the sufferings of the present time and the glory revealed; the light and transient appearance of affliction when in conjunction with an eternal weight of glory; the high purpose and supreme wisdom of God in the suffering of affliction; the end seen to be better than the beginning; and God proved, demonstrated, to be "very pitiful and of tender mercy."
S. Martin, Comfort in Trouble, p. 28.
Jam 5:13Religious Worship a Remedy for Excitements.
St. James seems to imply in these words that there is that in religious worship which supplies all our spiritual need, which suits every mood of mind and every variety of circumstances, over and above the heavenly and supernatural assistance which we are allowed to expect from it. Prayer and praise seem in his view to be a universal remedy, a panacea, as it is called, which ought to be used at once, whatever it be that affects us. Excitements are the indisposition of the mind; and of these excitements in different ways the services 'of Divine worship are the proper antidotes. How they are so shall now be considered.
I. Excitements are of two kinds: secular and religious. First, let us consider secular excitements. Such is the pursuit of gain, or of power, or of distinction. A man may live from week to week in the fever of a decent covetousness, to which he gives some more specious names, till the heart of religion is eaten out of him. One very momentous use of prayer and praise with all of us is that it breaks the current of worldly thoughts. Our daily prayer morning and evening suspends our occupations of time and sense, and especially the prayers of the Church do this. The weekly services of prayer and praise come to us as a gracious relief, a pause from the world, a glimpse of the third heaven, lest the world should rob us of our hope and enslave us to that hard master who is plotting our eternal destruction.
II. Next, let us consider how religious excitements are set right by the same Divine medicine. Is any one desirous of gaining comfort to his soul, of bringing Christ's presence home to his very heart, and of doing the highest and most glorious thing for the whole world? Let him praise God; let David's holy Psalter be as familiar words in his mouth, his daily service, ever repeated, yet ever new and ever sacred; let him pray: especially let him intercede. Few are rich; few can suffer for Christ; all may pray. Other men will not pray for themselves; you may pray for them and for the general Church; and while you pray, you will find enough in the defects of your praying to remind you of your own nothingness and to keep you from pride while you aim at perfection.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. iii., p. 336.
Jam 5:13-16The Visitation of the Sick.
I. To understand the clause which refers to anointing with oil, it must be remembered that in those early and simple days, when little was known about the structure of the human frame, and the healing art resolved itself very much into a rude kind of surgery, oil was regarded as a great restorative—as, indeed, it is now—and as the best form of medicine. In the Old Testament, Isaiah speaks of wounds and bruises which have never been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment; and in the New Testament, when the good Samaritan bound up the wounds of the traveller to Jericho, he gave oil as a medicine, and wine. Hence the application of oil is here prescribed possibly as the means which it might please God to bless to the sick man's recovery, possibly only as a symbol of that recovery; but whether it be the prescribed means or symbol, no greater perversion of a Scriptural passage can be imagined than that which has found here a warrant for what Romanists call "extreme unction," that is, anointing, as a religious ceremonial, a patient who is given over by a physician and about to die. While we pray for the recovery of our sick friend, we must at the same time remember that Almighty God works by means, and apply to the patient the remedies which a medical man prescribes; in a word, modern medicine, of whatsoever kind it be, corresponds to the ancient oil.
II. "If we have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." The Apostle naturally means, if in respect to his particular sickness he have committed sins. In a general sense we have all committed sins, and it is perfectly true that there is a deep connection between sin and disease; but at the same time it cannot be said of a particular case of sickness that the patient is suffering for his own sins.
III. Visitation of the sick may be made in the way of fraternal sympathy, as well as of ministerial duty. That gracious acknowledgment of the King in the day of final account, "I was sick, and ye visited Me," will surely not be made to the clergy only, but to all who have brought the accents of sympathy and the consolations of religion to the bedside of the sick and suffering.
E. M. Goulburn, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 241.
Reference: Jam 5:14.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 132.
Jam 5:15Among all the trials of life there is no occasion when we more deeply feel the need of God's helping hand than when brought low by sickness ourselves, or when we tremble for the life of some member of our household or a near and valued friend. Unwavering confidence in God inspires the belief that whatever is really for the best our gracious Father will be sure to grant.
I. We should always be humble in our prayers. Doubtless many a petition is rejected by a higher tribunal for lack of humility in the hearts of those who presented it.
II. Importunate earnestness is another characteristic of successful prayer, if, at the same time, we have the spirit of submission to the wisdom of our heavenly Father.
J. N. Norton, Every Sunday, p. 351.
Jam 5:16The Strength of Working Prayer.
I. The praying. It is not said "the prayer." And the difference is worth observing. If it were said "the prayer," it might seem as if the words of the prayer were like a charm, such as we read of in ancient fables, when some particular words repeated by any person are spoken of as able to produce some wonderful effect, so that, whoever uses them, they are regarded as equally powerful, the power, some mysterious imaginary power, being in the words themselves. It is the praying—the constant, earnest praying of the heart, not without words, no doubt, at least in general, but the constant, earnest praying of the heart—to which the effect is attributed by St. James.
II. It is the praying of a righteous man, not anybody's praying. St. James is speaking of the continuous heart-praying of the man who, clinging to the righteousness which has been won for him in Christ, is earnestly bent on rendering to God in his own body, soul, and spirit, by the help of the Holy Ghost, the offering of a righteous and saintly life. That is the sort of man of whose praying the Apostle speaks.
III. That sort of praying by that sort of man is a very strong thing. It is stronger than the wind, stronger than the earthquake, stronger than the sea, stronger than anything in the world; for God is moved by it, and He moves all creation at His pleasure.
IV. Its strength lies in the energy of its working; it sets on foot a mighty system of energies. The angels of God exult, the souls of men are wrought upon, the course of human events is guided, the grace of God is won, the Holy Spirit of God is abundantly poured out, by the secret incessant working of the mighty spiritual power that belongs to the "praying of the righteous man."
G. Moberly, Parochial Sermons, p. 225.
Intercessory prayer is but one part of the great system of intercession on which human life is organised. Intercession—it is simply a "coming in between." We know the word well in Roman political history as the tribune's veto. In its widest sense it may be applied to every act in which one human being is able to come in between another and some evil that might befall him. Nay, we may extend it even more widely still to the whole principle of mediation, by which one man is used to convey blessings to another. As it was with our Lord, so it is with the Church which He founded to represent Him when He should be gone. Its whole existence is one living act of intercession. Always and everywhere the Church is an intercessor; it is the expression of the mind of the Paraclete, standing by its very existence between God and the world, standing between the world and the forces of evil which threaten it. Intercessory prayer is but the expression of its intercessory life. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, that interdependence of man on man which is seen in the actions of daily life finds a new sphere of operations in our prayers. Not merely the actions, not merely the character and influence, but also the praying, of a righteous man becomes a great force.
I. It is a great force, first, because it forces us to keep up a true ideal of what those for whom we pray may be. It makes us, in George Macdonald's striking phrase, "think of them and God together." If I pray for any one, that implies that I have faith in him, that I believe he may be better than he is. Which of us does not know what a power for good this is? To know that some one does believe in us, that some one, knowing all our weakness, yet does believe that we can conquer our temptations; to be with some one who expects us to be better, this, even if it comes from those who have never knelt in prayer for us—this is an effectual intercession.
II. Intercession is, again, a great force because it pledges us to do the best we can for those for whom we pray. We cannot, in very shame, ask God to help those whom we are refusing to help ourselves when that help lies in our power; the very fact of intercession reminds us of the truth of the dependence of man upon man. We ask God to bless those for whom we care, and again and again He reminds us that His blessings are given through men, and the answer to our prayer is that we are sent on an errand of mercy.
III. Intercession is also such a great force because it brings into action the power of God, just as the tribune's veto would have had no force if it had been spoken by him on his own responsibility. It was strong because armed with the strength of law; it was strong not with the strength of even a Tiberius Gracchus, but with the power of a sacrosanct authority: so our prayers are strong because they have the promise and the power of Christ behind them.
W. Lock, Sermon Year Book, vol. i., p. 1.
References: Jam 5:17.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 96. Jam 5:17, Jam 5:18.—J. Davis, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 214.
Jam 5:19-20Means of Salvation.
I. Let us see what character consists of, and then we may see where and in what way it may be changed. First of all, there is the character we bring with us into this world, which we call our nature; and then there is that second nature which education and habit impart. Christian divines in all times have taught that man comes into this world with a decided character, bent, or bias; they call it human depravity, and they account for it by original sin: and modern science is equally strong in maintaining that man comes into this world with the shaping influence of the past upon him and a depravity inherited from savage or animal ancestors. Anyhow here is the fact: a man comes into this world a positive and decided kind of being, with a nature of a fixed quality and texture, a nature which is a kind of concrete, a fusing together of all sorts of broken fragments and dust of the past, or, to take a more living illustration, a soul with all sorts of buried seeds in it.
II. Conduct in the long run modifies character, especially that product of habit which we call second nature. By not doing a thing for a certain time a man cares less about doing it, his health is better, his courage higher, his pleasure with others increased, his self-respect more ample. The old taste begins to decay. A joyful audacity fills the eye which once had a suspicious, hunted look. New habits and tastes are gradually formed. In other words, a new character arises from changed circumstances, from a changed condition of things. Leave men, in all which surrounds them and acts upon them, in precisely the same state, without the smallest change, and they must remain the same. They must be brought into contact with new powers, new saving forces, if they are to be renewed in the spirit of their minds. But since they cannot change themselves, but must be what they are, change must be thrust upon them; their salvation must be directly set up by a power outside themselves; they need a Saviour. This is the Divine law, and its great manifestation was the Son of God, who was Son of man, who is the perfect illustration of God's dealings with man, the fulness of the Godhead bodily. He came to men, who without Him must have remained dead in trespasses and sins, and started them from the grave into newness of life.
W. Page Roberts, Liberalism in Religion, p. 147.
Danger and Effort.
I. There is, first, individual danger: the danger of erring from the truth. The danger may be either intellectual or moral, either the darkening of the understanding, or the corrupting of the heart. The allusion evidently is to one who, having known the truth, had departed from its safe and pleasant paths, and had come under the entanglements either of erroneous notions or of vicious life. And the twofold danger is in existence still. Moral error is, I need scarcely re mind you, more imminent and more disastrous than the other. It is quite possible to hold erroneous opinions in connection with a large charity. Wood, hay, and stubble are sometimes built with as clumsy materials on the true foundation; but where the danger is not intellectual, but moral, there is of necessity present alienation from God and the prospect of perpetual exile from the glory of His power. Heresy is not a trifling thing; it is to be resisted and deplored: but the deadliest heresy is sin, and there is danger in a world where every influence is a temptation, and where every passion is a tempter.
II. Take, next, the thought of individual effort: "If one convert him." There is here a distinct recognition of the influence of mind over mind, that principle of dependence and of oversight which is involved in our mutual relationship as members of one family. Not the least of the endowments which make up our solemn stewardship is this mysterious and inseparable power of influence, one of the most important talents entrusted to us, and of which we shall have to give account at the judgment-seat of God. It is of universal bestowment; we are none of us without it. Your sphere is narrow, you say; your influence is small; you can do nothing for
Christ. One acorn is a very insignificant thing, but the majestic oak is its development of strength; one little rippling wavelet makes no account, but it is carried to the springtide, and the springtide were not perfect without it; one raindrop is hardly noticed as it falls, but it is enough for one rosebud's life to make it blow. There is not one of you, however small and scanty and narrow your influence, who may not, by patient and prayerful toil, become a wise winner of souls.
W. M. Punshon, Penny Pulpit, Nos. 3674, 3675.
References: Jam 5:19, Jam 5:20.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i., No. 45; vol. xix., No. 1137; Homilist, vol. iv., p. 332; Homiletic Quarterly, vol i., p. 251. Jam 5:20.—J. Keble, Sermons on Various Occasions, p. 156.
Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.
Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.
Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.
Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.
Be patient therefore, 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.
Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.
Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.
Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.