Whoever keeps the whole Law but stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
I. TO RESPECT PERSONS IS TO COMMIT SIN. (Vers. 8, 9.) It involves disobedience to "the royal law. This is a noticeable expression. Any Divine commandment may be described as royal," seeing that it emanates from the supreme Sovereign of the universe. Rather, however, may the moral law receive this epithet because it is regal in its own character. God's law is the law of love; and love is kingly. The Divine nature itself is the foundation of virtue; and "God is love." Hence the Divine law is the eternal rule and final standard of rectitude. It possesses supreme excellence and supreme authority. Every other system of legislation, and all other rules of duty, ought to be subordinate to "the royal law." This law, we know, cannot be unjust; for it is a transcript of the moral perfection of the Divine nature, and is therefore the Alpha and Omega of all laws. The royal law is to be fulfilled "according to the Scripture;" for, while its ultimate source is in the nature of God, the one authoritative record of it to which sinful men have access is to be found in the Bible. We must consult "the law and the testimony" if we would ascertain the edicts of the great King, and learn the "newness of the spirit" in which these are to be obeyed. God's Word lays bare before us our half-buried and forgotten moral convictions; it restores the weather-worn inscriptions upon the gravestones of our sin-dead hearts. The apostle cites, as the great precept which forbids respect of persons, the words of Leviticus 19:18, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself - the same precept which our Lord had employed as his summary of the principle underlying the last six commandments. We are to love our neighbor, i.e. any one to whom we have it within our power to become helpful, even although he may be a stranger and a Samaritan. Those who discharge this duty aright do well." But, enlightened love for ones neighbor is inconsistent with respect of persons. We may not limit the precept either to our wealthy neighbor or to our poor neighbor. Indeed, to show partiality is not so much to trait the precept as to discard it altogether. Favoritism is the outcome of selfishness, rather than of the love that "seeketh not its own." Those, therefore, who practice it are not guilty of a trifling impropriety, but of direct and palpable sin, both against the Old Testament law anti "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus."
II. TO TRANSGRESS IN ONE POINT IS TO TRANSGRESS THE WHOLE LAW. (Vers. 10, 11.) Let no one plead that respect of persons in the Church is so trivial a fault that it ought to be overlooked, especially in view of the social and pecuniary benefits which may be expected to result from it. The apostle assures us that partiality is a sin, and that he who indulges in it disobeys the whole moral law. To unthinking minds this latter assertion may sound very doubtful doctrine, leading them to ask - Is this statement of the nature of casuistry, or is it sober truth in the form of paradox? Does it not seem contrary to true moral perspective to affirm that a man who is noted for his blameless life "becomes guilty of all" when he "stumbles in one point"? Do not some sins, like some diseases, shut out the possibility of others which lie in an opposite direction? But a little consideration will reveal the deep moral truth of this saying. For:
1. The Lawgiver is one. (Ver. 11.) Every precept of the law possesses the same Divine authority. The sixth commandment is invested with the same solemn sanctions as the seventh. "God spake all these words." To disregard any one precept, therefore, is to violate the entire authority by which the whole Law has been ordained. It follows from this that:
2. The Law itself is one. How immeasurably "the royal law" is exalted, in its grand essential unity, above human systems of jurisprudence! The common law of England has to submit to have its defects supplied, and its rigors mitigated, by equity; but how very far yet are our common law and equity and statute law from coalescing into a unity! But the Divine legislation forms a perfect code; for it is a perfect reflection and expression of the mind or' God. The Bible jurisprudence knows no distinction between law and equity. It is independent of glosses and commentaries. It abhors legal fictions. Having for its Author the God of love, its vital unity is found in the principle of loving obedience. "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: love therefore is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10). So, to "stumble in one point" is to break the whole law. For, as has been said, the law is a seamless robe, which is torn although only a part be torn; or a musical harmony, which is marred if one voice be singing out of tune; or a necklace of pearls, from which a single pearl cannot be dropped without breaking the string upon which the others hang, and letting them fall to the ground.
3. The spirit of obedience is one. True reverence for the law is inspired by love to the Lawgiver; and therefore obedience is impartial, and strives to be perfect. Our first parents, in eating the forbidden fruit, fell from the spirit of obedience, and dishonored the whole law. In like manner, the man who habitually breaks one of the commandments shows that in principle he is disloyal, and that he would transgress any other precept were he exposed to similar temptation to do so.
CONCLUSION. We should not be able to contemplate this subject without being impressed with such considerations as these:
1. The obligation which rests upon us to render perfect obedience to the law of God.
2. The impossibility of our doing so in our own strength, or during the present life.
3. The necessity of clothing ourselves with the righteousness of Christ. - C.J.
Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point.I. THE BREACH OF ONE PRECEPT NECESSARILY IMPLIES, AND THEREFORE IS FAIRLY TO BE ADJUDGED, A BREACH OF THE WHOLE LAW.
1. By offence we are to understand a knowing and voluntary transgression of the law.
2. By offending in one point is meant an habitual neglect of one duty, founded on a disbelief of the necessity of our performing it: and not any single act of transgression.
3. The proposition, then, is this, that whoever knows the law, and yet denies his obedience to any one precept of it, is guilty of disobedience to the whole law. And the reason is because he subverts the authority of the whole.
4. To illustrate this farther, consider that the only principles that preserve men's reverence of God, and engage their obedience to His laws, are either fear and apprehension of His justice in their punishment, or love and the expectation of those rewards He proposes to obedience. Now all the restraint men are under from these motives is by the violation of one law broken through; and the principle which influenced their obedience has lost its efficacy on them.
5. Consider, farther, that the right our Creator has to our obedience is of so high and transcendent a nature that it can suffer no competition; His commands must have the first and governing influence on all our actions. Whoever, therefore, in any one avowed instance of sin, gives any temporal motive or principle a direction over his actions, dethrones the Deity, while he denies the Divine law that sovereign authority it ought to have over him.
II. NEITHER CAN OUR OBSERVANCE OF OTHER PARTS OF OUR DUTY BE ANY ATONEMENT FOR OUR GUILT IN OFFENDING IN ONE POINT, OR ENTITLE US TO THE REWARDS OF OBEDIENCE. For it is not our performing any particular action, but our performing it in obedience to the Divine law, that renders it acceptable to God. Now whoever performs some duties required by the law, while he neglects others, cannot act from any conviction that he ought to obey, or from any regard to the authority of the legislator, which being the same in all, would equally influence his obedience to all; but the virtuous actions he performs are either —
1. Purely a compliance with natural appetite; and consequently are not to be looked on as instances of obedience to a Divine law.
2. Supposing him not to be insensible of an obedience due to God Almighty, and to act with some regard to it, yet since this regard is so small, that in some instances it is manifestly inferior to a temptation, were the same temptation applied to other parts of his duty, it would by the same regular influence engage him to transgress them too.
3. It may appear not only consistent with the pursuits he is engaged in, but the profit, the reputation, or the convenience of the virtue, may recommend it, from the same inducements of pleasure and advantage by which he has been determined in the choice of his favourite vices; and so he may obey the law in one instance, from the motives that prevail on him to break it in another. But this is not serving God, but our own lusts.
III. WHAT ARE THE PLEAS WHICH DELUDE SO GREAT A PART OF MANKIND, AND INDUCE THEE TO BELIEVE THAT GOD WILL BE SATISFIED WITH A PARTIAL OBEDIENCE.
1. It is urged that God Almighty is a wise and merciful Father, who knows the powers and weaknesses of our nature, and the number and difficulty of those temptations we are exposed to. And since an entire observance of the whole law is manifestly beyond our abilities, God cannot without the imputation of cruelty be supposed to require more than a partial obedience from us. But in answer to this we may observe, first, that since God has by positive precept required our obedience to every command of the law, it is a much fairer inference from His knowledge of our abilities, and His inseparable attributes of goodness and justice, to conclude that such a Being would not require impossibilities, and insult the weakness of His creatures with a delusive proposal of happiness, which He knew they could never attain. But to give a more direct answer to this plea, it must be observed that this objection proceeds upon a mistaken sense of the doctrine we assert; which is not that God requires a perfect unsinning obedience, free from particular acts of transgression: thus we acknowledge it impossible for us to obey any one law: but that every law of God is equally to be obeyed.
2. Examine whether any plea can be drawn from Scripture to excuse or to justify a partial obedience. Now it is not pretended that the Scriptures in express terms dispense with any one Divine law.
(J. Rogers, D. D.)
(E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
I. In the words before us THE HIGHEST AND BEST POSSIBLE SUPPOSITION IS MADE WITH REFERENCE TO HUMAN OBEDIENCE. It is supposed that the individual here presented before us has kept the whole law with but one solitary exception. Dress yourself out in your best plumes, put on your most courtly array; deck yourself in your most unspotted garments; suppose the best opinion to be true, that with any degree of self-examination you can entertain of your condition, yet surely you are guilty of one sin, you have broken one commandment — then thou art guilty of the whole, "thou art weighed in the balance," and by thine own weights and measures thou art "found wanting."
II. THE SLIGHTEST POSSIBLE FLAW SUPPOSED that could be supposed to exist. Now, can we make a stronger supposition in favour of human righteousness than that which he makes? — and can we refuse to admit a possible flaw to the extent he supposes it to exist, after the plain declaration of the Word of God?
III. From the strongest possible supposition of human righteousness, and from the slightest possible flaw that can be supposed to exist in that righteousness, THE MOST FEARFUL CONCLUSION IS DEDUCED AS TO ITS BEARING ON US in these words, "He that shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point is guilty of all."
1. Because all the commandments of the law are inseparably connected.
2. This conclusion of the apostle rests on the unity of the commandments themselves, on the oneness of the principle on which they are founded. God reveals Himself as our Creator and Preserver, a Being to whelm we are under infinite obligations; in revealing Himself in this character, all He asks of us is love. From that one feeling, He deduces the various duties we owe to Him — they are all but so many proofs of the existence of the principle of love — and on the same ground of obligation to Him, He enforces the duties we owe to our fellow-men.
3. "He who offends in one point is guilty of all," because the keeping of some commandments will not, by any means, atone for the violation of others.
4. The law, as law, cannot permit the slightest deviation, and here we see the folly of looking to the law for justification in the sight of God.
(W. H. Cooper.)I. OFFER A FEW EXPLANATORY REMARKS.
1. By "the law" here is not meant! he ceremonial, but the moral law, or the law of ten commandments.
2. It is affirmed that the most perfect obedience to the law which could possibly be found amongst sinful and erring creatures would still fall short of its requirements.
3. The conclusion in the text is, that the least defect in our obedience contains in it a virtual violation of the whole law. As the least segment of a true circle is circular, so the smallest act of sin is in the sight of God exceeding sinful.
II. ESTABLISH THE LEADING SENTIMENT — that he who offends in one point is guilty of the whole law.
1. All the Divine commands make but one compact, one uniform rule of duty. As all the curtains of the tabernacle, joined together by taches and loops, made but one covering for the ark, and if any part was disjoined it became unfit for the purpose, so if one command be violated, the whole law is broken, and the compact is made void.
2. The will and authority of the Lawgiver is as much resisted and despised by transgressing any one command as by breaking the whole law.
3. That authority which is not sufficient to deter us from sin in any one particular instance would not be sufficient in any other, if suitable temptations offered.
4. The whole law is summed up in love, which is called the fulfilling of the law. Every action therefore that carries in it the want of love to God or our neighbour is a breach of the whole law; and this is the case with every sin that we commit.
5. The consequence of one sin unrepented of and unpardoned is the same as if we lived in the wilful and continued commission of all sin; it is followed with the curse.Improvement:
1. We are hereby taught the extent, purity, and spirituality of the Divine law. It forbids, reproves, and punishes all sin; the first risings of it in the heart, as well as its breakings forth in the life, sinful imaginations as well as sinful actions.
2. The folly and danger of building any hope of salvation on the ground of our own obedience, or works of righteousness that we have done. This can only arise from pride of heart, or the most culpable ignorance; ignorance both of the law and of the gospel, of God and ourselves.
3. The necessity there is for the best of men to humble themselves before God under a sense of their innumerable defects, and to be ever watchful against the commission of sin.
(B. Beddome, M. A.)1. It showeth how tender we should be of every command: wilful violation amounteth to a total neglect. The least dust offendeth the eye; and so the law is a tender thing, and soon wronged.
2. Partial obedience is an argument of insincerity.
3. It is a vain deceit to excuse defects of one duty by care of another.
4. Upon any particular failing we ought to renew our peace with God. I have done that now which will make me guilty of the whole law; therefore, soul, run to thy Advocate (1 John 2:1).
5. We must not only regard the work of duty, but all the circumstances of it; and so proportionably, not only the acts of sin, but the vicious inclinations of it.
6. Former profession will do no good in case there be a total revolt afterward. A little poison in a cup, and one leak in a ship, may ruin all. A man may ride right for a long lime, but one turn in the end of the journey may bring him quite out of the way.
7. The smallness of sin is a poor excuse: it is an aggravation rather than an excuse: it is the more sad, that we should stand with God for a trifle.
(T. Manton.)I. To EXPLAIN IT. We cannot deny that there are different degrees of offence against the commands of God. It does not often happen, perhaps, that any person habitually and wilfully violates one commandment only. It is the nature of sin to bring men along from one transgression to another. We may suppose, however, a man who shall reserve to himself one sin, which he allows, and to keep the law very strictly in every other point. Surely such a man is less guilty than another, who is altogether careless about the commands of God. We feel it so; and if less guilty, his punishment will be less in proportion. Having seen what St. James does not mean, we will inquire what he does mean. He is censuring the Christians, to whom he writes, for a particular fault which they seem to be allowing themselves in — that of paying court to the rich, to the prejudice of those in humbler station; respecting persons, despising the poor. You will say, perhaps, "Is not this to condemn all? For who is without sin?" "In many things we all offend"; and "if we say that we have no sin, the truth is not in us." True, none are without sin; but without deadly sin we trust that many are. True, we all offend; but we do not all offend wilfully: we do not allow ourselves in sin. We must not if we have any well-grounded hope. The true Christian will never feel that he has loved God with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and strength; but still he will never be satisfied with anything short of this, much less will he say, "I cannot love God so far as to part with this or that besetting sin." A man who should act thus would be guilty of all — so far guilty of all that he would be as much unforgiven of God as if he had been guilty of a breach of all the commandments. His punishment might be less severe than that of a greater and more universal profligate; but it would be no less sure. His exclusion from heaven would be as certain. Such is the explanation of the text.
II. I proceed now to VINDICATE IT. You see the ease. It is that of a man who is brought under some sense of the duty owed to God. He is not without the knowledge of Him or the fear of Him, but he allows himself in some practice which is contrary to his duty. While this remains so he has not altogether surrendered himself up to God; he has not given Him his heart. Some service he will not grudge; complete service he refuses to pay. In short, he reserves to himself the right of disobeying God when it would be difficult or painful to obey Him. Now, consider whether this deserves to be called obedience. How would it be among men? A parent expects to be obeyed by his child whilst under age. Has not such disobedience on one point caused many a child to be disinherited? A master expects to be obeyed by his servants. Suppose a servant to have many excellent qualities, to be very diligent, very careful, very honest, but still to offend in one point. A general expects to be obeyed by his soldiers. Suppose a man to be very brave, very sober, very punctual, but still to offend in one point. Is he not treated exactly as if he had broken all the commands of his general? Many excellent soldiers suffer death on this account alone in every campaign against an enemy. The people of every land are expected to obey the law of that land. He who offends the law in one point is as surely condemned as if he had committed many offences. These examples, I think, must prove to you that there is nothing unreasonable or hard to understand in this sentence of Scripture.
III. I come now to APPLY what has been said. There are two classes of sinners in the world. There are those who acknowledge no restraint from the law of God at all, and if they do not offend in every possible way, are not hindered from offending by anything like godly fear. The thought that God has commanded this, God has forbidden that, never comes into their minds; at least, it never governs their actions, Now, the text is not addressed to them. I would only inquire, If he who keeps the whole law, and yet offends in one point, is guilty of all, what must become of those who offend in every point, who take no heed to keep even any part of the law because it is the law of God? But there are other and different persons with which this sentence of St. James has to do — those who know the law of God, and confess that it ought to be obeyed, but still allow themselves some habit of sin which they do not resolve against, or watch against, or pray against. Perhaps it is a sin of natural temper, as lust, uncharitableness, peevishness. They indulge this sin, and silence the voice of conscience by thinking within themselves, "This is my natural constitution; my disposition leads me to it. I wish it were otherwise; but nature will break out." Now, this very circumstance, that it is the natural disposition, is the reason why they should set their minds to conquer this habit. Here their probation lay. Few persons are tempted equally to all vices. This sin, then, it is their especial business to overcome; and they would make it their business if they were truly faithful. Suppose a child knew that there was one piece of duty which his father particularly required of him, would not this be the very duty which he would take especial pains to perform? I have spoken of sins which belong particularly to the temper. There are others which belong to the way of life, or bad habits to which a person has addicted himself, and which he cannot be persuaded to abandon. One of these is taking the name of God in vain. Another is excess of liquor on occasions of temptation. There are also sins of the tongue, which persons sometimes indulge without being aware of their danger. Now these which I have mentioned are all matters to which you must apply the assurance in the text. This is one test of your state. This is a serious text. Nay, we may think it awful; but I am sure we earner deny its justice. We cannot deny that God has a right to our service, and that it is not service to disobey Him when we please. We cannot think that God will be put off with half a heart. Try and examine yourselves, then, by this text before you sleep Ibis night. See whether you have permitted yourself in any habit of sin — if there is any such unforsaken sin, any such evil habit still allowed, that is the barrier between you and God; nay, between you and heaven. Lastly, I trust there are those who can affirm with sincerity and truth that they have forsworn all known sin, that they hold no parley, no measures, with any, but strive against every evil thought and word and deed which Satan inclines their nature to. This must be your evidence that you are in the faith of Christ. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
(J. B. Sumner, D. D.)
1. Look at the law itself. It is characterised by essential, all-pervading unity. It has manifold relations. It deals with the heart and life, the thoughts, words, and actions; with men of all ages and conditions, as bound up with and owing duties to each other as members of families, of communities, of churches. But, in perfect harmony with this, it consists of one great, all-comprehensive principle. The whole obedience it demands can be expressed in a single monosyllable. "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." The matter standing thus, to break it in one respect is to break it in every respect — in its entirety, its unity. You cannot trample on a single jot or tittle of it without thereby treading on the principle of which it is the expression.
2. Look at the subjects of the law. There must be a unity in them exactly corresponding to the unity in the law. Its great comprehensive demand is love, as we have seen, and by this affection or principle alone can it be fulfilled. There cannot be a failure in any respect but by a failure of this, the spring of all true submission and service. That within us, apart from which none of the Divine statutes can be honoured, is found so far lacking; and the deficiency is to be viewed, not simply in relation to the particular enactment disregarded, but to the entire code with which it is connected. The root of the tree is shown to be affected, and that tells on the stem and all the branches.
3. Look at the Author of the law. It has been given by God, and bears throughout His impress. His authority is stamped equally on every part of the statute-book. But does not this view of the matter lie open to grave objections? Does it not make all sin equal? By offending in one point we do not become guilty of all, but we may be so in varying degrees. Violations of human law, even when they are most complete, differ widely, and so there is a scale of punishments ranging from a trifling or a short imprisonment to death itself. It is not otherwise with the supreme rule of duty. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others. To trample on even the least commandment is, in effect, to trample on the whole law; but we may do that more or less wilfully, recklessly, impiously. Again, does it not involve men equally in sin they do and do not commit? If I am held as violating the entire law, then am I not held as violating equally the part I have broken and the part I have not broken? Acts of disobedience have this universal character; but it is one thing constructively, and another thing actually, to trample on all the commandments. Offences of every kind are deadly in their nature; but we are answerable only for those we commit, and the degree of our guilt and misery depends on their number and magnitude.
1. The first of the prejudices to which we shall direct your attention, is that of those who conceive that if our good deeds overbalance our evil deeds, the Almighty will, in consideration of what is excellent in our conduct, overlook what is defective. The man who conceives that his sins are outnumbered by his virtues, overrates his own merits. But even admitting that any could aver that his virtues outnumbered his vices, it were erroneous to suppose that his sins must, therefore, be cancelled. His virtues are certainly deserving of the approbation of men, but never can atone for the habitual violation of any command of God. This is agreeable to those principles upon which we form our judgments of those around us. How completely our confidence in any person is destroyed, if a single dishonourable action is detected!
2. The next prejudice is nearly akin to what we have been considering, and indeed takes its rise from it. There are who maintain that their lives are chargeable with as few faults as the lives of those who make a profession of religion, and thence infer that their prospects must be equally favourable. They look at the outward act and see imperfection cleaving to the very best, from which they themselves may happen to be free; but they see nothing at all that takes place in the tuner man — nothing of the struggles between principle and passion, between grace and nature, and still less of the force of contrition, of fixed purposes of amendment. Here, then, is the difference between the two. The one sins, and hardens his heart to continue in sin; the other, when he sins, humbles himself in the dust before his God, and resolves, through His grace, to go no more astray. We see, then, the danger of satisfying ourselves with the idea that our lives are as irreproachable as those of others. The habit of measuring ourselves by others is, indeed, pernicious in another respect. It fosters a sensorious disposition, a tendency to underrate the good qualities of others. It creates a suspicion of the purity of their motives. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? In examining yourselves, look to the law by which you are to be tried. There are other prejudices to be found, to which we can only make a general illusion.
3. Some have imagined that what is revealed in Scripture does not apply to their peculiar case, and that the punishment will therefore not be inflicted. They judge of sin by its perceived consequences, and not by its own nature. One man violates the truth, but then this injures no one. Another indulges in sinful pleasure, but his excesses are hurtful to none but himself. But we are not thus to judge of sin. Independently of these consequences, God has declared from on high against all unrighteousness.
4. We now proceed to consider some of the prejudices which prevail among the class of individuals formerly referred to, those who, by the outward observance of the first table of the law, quiet their consciences for the violation of the second, and who, dashing the one table against the other, break the whole. The other mistake is that of those who conceive that the law is altogether superseded by the gospel, and that faith in Christ exempts from the performance of good works. We only remark that the believers are exempted from the curse of the law — they are not free from the obligation to obey God, as the rule of life. Nay, by the new motives Christ has given to obedience, the obligations to obedience are increased instead of diminished. There are one or two snares into which even sincere believers are in danger of falling, which I merely mention. One is, that the readiness they have experienced on the part of the Almighty to pardon them, is employed by Satan as an encouragement to sin, in the prospect of certain forgiveness. Another is, that the power of indwelling sin is never wholly overcome in the world, from which indolence takes occasion to flatter itself, as to the folly of its endeavours, as to the hopelessness of success, and the mercy of God, which is passively relied on, is made thus to increase our willingness to offend.
(D. Welsh, D. D.)I. IT IS THE SUBSTANCE OF ALL LAW.
II. IT IS INCONSISTENT WITH ALL SOCIAL WRONGS.
III. IT IS THE SPIRIT OF TRUE LIBERTY. Where there is selfishness, there may be license; where there is love, there is liberty.
IV. IT IS THE DETERMINER OF OUR CONDITION. By our loyalty to this law, our possession of this love, we prove that we are in the kingdom of mercy.
(U. R. Thomas.)1. Consider how wonderfully you are obliged to your infinitely good God, in that He hath, through Christ, declared Himself so exceedingly willing to pardon all sins not allowed and lived in. Can you be so foolish and ill-natured as thus to requite the Lord?
2. Consider how gracious God hath been to you in continuing His restraining grace, whereby you have been kept from scandalous sins; whereas He hath had most just provocations to leave you to yourselves, in regard of your allowance of secret ones.
3. Let the partially obedient consider what unaccountable folly and madness it is to disobey God in anything. What can you say for yourselves, why you should obey Him but just so far?
4. Consider what a glorious reward is assured to us to encourage us to obey.
5. Let it be likewise considered that, as vastly great as the reward of obedience shall be, there is no more required of us under the gospel dispensation than, all things considered, needs must.
6. Consider also that the laws which are given us, as they are most necessary, so they are not so many as that we need to be scared at them.
7. Consider that there is so close a connection between them all, that obedience to one law will enable us to obey another, and so on. And the performance of one duty will prepare us for another, and make it easy to us. And on the other hand, the breach of one law will cause carelessness in keeping other laws; and no sin goes alone.
8. I may add that there is no necessity of being very solicitous about any more than one thing, in order to our keeping God's laws; and that is the vigorously possessing our souls with the love of God.
9. What a sad thing and miserable disappointment must it needs be to come near to the kingdom of heaven, and yet at last fall short of it for want of going a little further?
(Edward Fowler, D. D.)I. LET US FIX THE SENSE OF OUR APOSTLE'S PROPOSITION.
1. What kind of sin had St. James in view when he said this? It should seem at first, from the connection of the text with the preceding verses, theft when St. James says, "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all," he means by this one point benevolence. However, I cannot think the meaning ought to be thus restricted. I rather suppose that he took occasion from a particular subject to establish a general maxim, that includes all sins which come under the same description with that of which he was speaking. We acquit the apostle of the charge of preaching a melancholy, cruel morality, and we affirm, for the comfort of timorous minds, that we ought not to place among the sins here intended either momentary faults, daily frailties, or involuntary passions.(1) By daily frailties I mean those imperfections of piety which are inseparable from the conditions of inhabitants of this world, which mix themselves with tire virtues of the most eminent saints. These are rather an imperfection essential to nature than a direct violation of the law.(2) We ought not to number momentary faults among the offences of which it is said, "Whosoever committeth one is guilty of a violation of the whole law." A believer falls into such sins only in those sad moments in which he is surprised unawares, and in which he loses in a manner the power of reflecting and thinking.(3) We affirm their gusts of involuntary passions ought not to be included in the number of sins of which St. James saith, "Whosoever offendeth in one point, he is guilty of all." The sins of which the apostle speaks are preceded by the judgment of the mind, accompanied with mature deliberation, and approved by conscience.
2. But in what sense may it be affirmed of any sin that he who offendeth in one point is guilty of all? It is plain St. James neither meant to establish an equality of sins nor an equality of punishments. He probably had two views — a particular and a general view. The particular design might regard the theological system of some Jews, and the general design might regard the moral system of too many Christians. Some Jews, soon after the apostle's time, and very likely in his days, affirmed that God gave a great many precepts to men, not that He intended to oblige them to the observance of all, but that they might have an opportunity of obtaining salvation by observing any one of them; and it was one of their maxims that he who diligently kept one command, was thereby freed from the necessity of observing the rest. What is still more remarkable, when the Jews choose a precept they usually choose one that gives the least check to their favourite passions, and one that is least essential to religion, as some ceremonial precept. This, perhaps, is what Jesus Christ reproves in the Pharisees and Scribes of His time (Matthew 23:23). Perhaps these words of our Saviour may be parallel to those of St. James. The apostle had been recommending love, and at length he tells the Jews who, in the style of Jesus Christ, "omitted mercy," that whosoever should keep the whole law, and yet offend in this one point, would be guilty of all. But St. James did not intend to restrain what he said to love. If he had a particular view to the theological system of some Jews, he had also a general view to the morality of many Christians whose ideas of devotion are too contracted. He informs them that a virtue incomplete in its parts cannot be a true virtue. He affirms that he who resolves in his own mind to sin, and who forces his conscience to approve vice while he commits it, cannot in this manner violate one single article of the law without enervating the whole of it.
II. HE WHO VIOLATES ONE PRECEPT OF THE LAW IN THE MANNER JUST NOW DESCRIBED, VIOLATES ALL.
1. He subverts, as far as in him lies, the very foundation of the law. When God gives us laws, He may be considered under either of three relations, or under all the three together, as a Sovereign, a Legislator, a Father. He saps the foundation of that obedience which is due to God considered as a Master, if he imagine he may make any reserve in his obedience; if he say, I will submit to God if He command me to be humble, but not if He command me to be chaste, and so on. He saps the foundation of that obedience which is due to God considered as a Lawgiver, if he imagine God is just in giving such and such a law, but not in prescribing such and such other laws. He subverts the foundation of obedience to God as a Father, if he suppose that God hath our happiness in view in requiring us to renounce some passions; but that He goes contrary to our interests by requiring us to sacrifice some other passions, which he may suppose can never be sacrificed without his sacrificing at the same time his pleasure and felicity.
2. The man who offends in the manner that we have described, he who in his mind resolves to sin and endeavours to force his conscience to approve vice while he commits "it, breaks all the precepts of the law, because, whether he do actually break them or not, he breaks them virtually and intentionally.
III. St. James pronounces in our text A SENTENCE OF CONDEMNATION AGAINST THREE SORTS OF SINNERS.
1. They who are engaged in a way of life sinful of itself are guilty of a violation of the whole law, while they seem to offend only in one point. We every day hear merchants and traders ingenuously confess that their business cannot succeed unless they defraud the Government.
2. In the same class we put sinners who cherish a darling passion. A jealous God will accept of none of our homage while we refuse Him that of our chief love.
3. Finally, intractable minds are condemned in our text. Docility is a touchstone, by which a doubtful piety may be known to be real or apparent.
I. CONSIDER WHAT THE DECLARATION IS, AND HOW MUCH IT IMPLIES. A case is put. God has revealed in His holy Word a law for the regulation of His creatures. This law, the index of His Will, is the transcript of His own mind and character. It is therefore holy, just, and good: it is pure, perfect, and spiritual. Nothing else could proceed from Him. Has the law been transgressed (it matters not how much)? If it has been transgressed, it is to no purpose to plead in what a slight particular the transgression was committed. But the excuse is heard, that no other fault can be found, that perfect obedience has been rendered in every other particular. But why was it not fulfilled in this? justice promptly, but confoundingly demands. The offender is speechless; for the stern reply crushes in pieces his vain allegation, and shivers it to the winds. There was a young man, whose reply, when Christ rehearsed to him his duties, was, "All these have I kept from my youth." One thing he lacked, and that was deadness to the world. In one point of that law he offended, and that point was covetousness: he was living in the continual breach of the tenth commandment. Now, this is an invisible sin: it is not of a palpable and outward character like the rest; and the young man had never broken the other nine literally, or at least flagrantly; yet the text pronounces this verdict upon him, "He is guilty of all."
II. BUT LET US SEE UPON WHAT PRINCIPLE THIS IS DECLARED. The principle is simply this, that the law is one and indivisible. It is true its requirements are ten in number; but the law itself is one. If you can set at naught God's authority in one particular, you can in another: no distinction can be drawn here. If one link of the chain is broken, the chain is broken. The blow that splits a mirror into two might as well shiver it into a thousand pieces. The invasion of one law of his country deprives the culprit of his liberty or his life; and justice is deaf to any such plea as that he has kept every other law.
III. CONSIDER THE APPLICATION OF THIS PRINCIPLE TO OURSELVES.
1. It shuts every mouth: it stops boasting; hereby the seemingly innocent are brought in guilty. It hence appears that there are no little sins, that the slightest delinquencies are noticed; and the tendency is to open men's eyes to their guilt. The law, as thus explained, admits of no escape.
2. One other result which proceeds from this principle in its application, is the arousing men out of their careless security. This the law does by discovering to them the enormity of their guilt, because it shows to them the infinite turpitude of one transgression. It is virtually equal in magnitude with many; for "whosoever offendeth in one point is guilty of all." Thus, each sin is a boundless evil its guilt transcends all calculation.
IV. NOTICE THE MEANS OF ESCAPE FROM CONDEMNATION.
1. If there is any poor sinner, halting from his iniquities now, under the fear of conscquences to which before he has been blind, I would bid such a one not despair. Look to Jesus: He has died for you. Repent truly of your sin, and apply to Him for mercy. He will not cast you out: you may be saved by believing in His name.
2. But let me address a few words to the Lord's people before I conclude.(1) In reference to your privileges. Although you have offended in one, and in more than one point of the law, yet you are no longer held to be guilty of all, or indeed of any. Your answer to all charges is this: "Who is He that condemneth? it is Christ that died; yea, rather that is risen again; who also makes intercession for us." Yes yell know that if any of you sin you have an advocate with the Father, who pleads for you His own all-availing propitiation. Therefore you are free.(2) I would only add one word of a caution. I have said you have liberty. Yet use not this liberty as a license to transgress. See that you abuse not your privileges; neither requite God's mercies with base ingratitude.
(H. Smith, M. A.)1. It cannot possibly be the apostle's meaning, that he who commits one sin does by that single fact contract the guilt of all other: sins. That he who pilfers, for example, is guilty of murder and adultery; so absurd is this notion, that it may at any time be reduced to a contradiction in itself; for one and the same person may, according to this explication, at one and the same time be guilty of contraries.
2. Can the apostle be supposed to mean to destroy all difference between one sin and another; and to teach that the guilt of all sins is the same, and their malignity equal; that tattling is as execrable as blasphemy?
3. But the doctrine conveyed by the text is this. That a universal obedience to all the laws of God, without reserve, and without exception, is required from us, and cannot be supplied by a partial observance; that is by a strict observance of some, and an absolute neglect of other duties.
4. And the reasonableness of this doctrine will appear from many considerations.(1) That he who offends only in one point of the law, offends however against the Author of the whole body of laws; against that Authority upon which all other points depend, and from which they derive their force and obligation.(2) Again, he who offends in any one point of the law with presumption of toleration in that single offence, though he strictly observes the other points, does by that absurd notion of partial obedience destroy the very attributes of God.(3) Nor let the offender in one point plead his obedience in all others till he has considered of what force such a plea would be before a human tribunal.
5. But let us now consider the insecurity of partial obedience. What man can pretend to say he will continue to keep the whole law, save one point? There is self-deceit at the bottom of such a thought. The whole tribe of vices is so closely connected they unite imperceptibly with each other, nay, sometimes seem to require one another. If we complain of the difficulty of observing some laws more than others, we may be assured the fault is in ourselves; through habits wilfully contracted, want of observation and continual control of the more powerful affections, and therefore tend to aggravate our guilt from the unchecked reiteration of our offences.
(H. Usher, D. D.)I. THE REASONABLENESS OF AN UNRESERVED AND UNIFORM OBEDIENCE TO GOD.
1. Suppose a servant should only execute his master's orders when they fell in with his own humour, but should continually disobey him when they did not suit his fancy or convenience, could such a man be said to obey his master, or only to gratify himself?
2. People are not aware what they are doing when they indulge any one vice. For any one habitual bad quality will, in process of time, as effectually destroy everything morally good in us, as even many bad qualities. When it has thoroughly got possession of your heart it will soon draw the head after it.
II. THE FOLLY OF A PARTIAL OBEDIENCE. It is universally agreed that in works of art — architecture, for instance, painting and statuary — it is not one detached independent part, however ornamental, which we call beauty; it is a full result and well-proportioned union of all the several parts, which must have a noble and agreeable effect upon the whole. Thus in life it is not one single accomplishment, how excellent soever, that constitutes the beauty of a Christian life: it is the assemblage of all the moral virtues, as far as in us lies. What avails one glaring action or two, one shining quality or more, which is not of a piece with the rest of our conduct? It is but a purple patch sown upon a garment everywhere else despicably poor, and only serveth to upbraid, by its ridiculous splendour, the coarseness of all the rest.
III. ANSWERS TO OBJECTIONS. Some think themselves excusable for the commission of any fault, however notorious, because nobody is free from faults. That is, because the best of men are sometimes liable to little inadvertencies, therefore they may indulge themselves in drunkenness, malice, dishonesty, etc. Nay, they have recourse to Scripture to patronise a wicked life. To as little purpose is it to allege the examples of several great men in the Old Testament in favour of vice. For either they were known sins, of which those men were guilty, or they were not. If the former, then the severity of their repentance bore proportion to the enormity of their guilt. And who would choose to catch a dangerous distemper because some of a strong constitution, after they have undergone very severe discipline, have, with much ado, recovered their former health? But if they were not known sins, such as perhaps were polygamy, concubinage, &c., what is that to us who have no title to the same plea in behalf of the favourite vice which we retain? One objection more remains to be obviated, viz., that it is inconsistent with the Divine goodness to consign any man who stands clear of all other vices to future misery for one habitual crime. To which, first, I answer that future misery is the necessary consequence of one habit of sin, since one habit of sin disqualifies us for the enjoyment of heaven. I answer further, that it is so far from being inconsistent with God's goodness to punish habitual sinners, that from this very attribute we may infer the doctrine of future punishments. For, if He be a Being of infinite goodness, lie must support the cause of virtue, which cannot be done without discouraging vice as well as honouring virtue.
IV. SOME PRACTICAL INFERENCES.
1. HOW necessary it is we should study the Scriptures and there inform ourselves what the will of our Maker is; otherwise we shall dignify with the name of reason whatever our craving inclination warmly pleads for.
2. A lame partial obedience, instead of an entire universal righteousness, is what we ought most to guard against.
(J. Seed, M. A.)
(T. Gisborne, M. A.)1. It is not merely the violation of God's law we are to regard, but the temper which leads thereto. Sinfulness is to the sinner a greater evil than the sin. The sin is something outside of bin, self; the sinfulness inside. He has projected the sin out of himself, to be a black tact in God's universe; the sinfulness remains in him to be the black parent of other sinful acts. If all his past sins were suddenly annihilated and still his sinfulness remained, he would be a sinner.
2. James urges the fact that each law has been enacted by the authority which makes every other law obligatory. And it may be well to note that this great principle sets every law enacted by our heavenly Father in the light of sacredness, so that it seems a solecism to speak of any sins as "little sins," and any lies as "white lies." Much less would little sins be excusable, if there were little sins. They require less resistance, while, like the little speck on the skin of the fluff, they may eat in and destroy all.
3. There is no middle ground between this principle and the surrender of all government. If a thing is permissible, a wise Ruler should not forbid it. If a thing is hurtful, a wise Father should not allow it. If, in all the whole category of laws, any one may be set aside, or the violation of any be indulged with impunity, then either God must select the law from which the Divine sanction is to be lifted, or the man who desires to sin must make the selection. If God be supposed to select, we have the extraordinary suggestion of the Father cherishing disobedience in the child, the monarch affording aid to the rebel, the only perfectly holy person in the universe sanctioning sin. But if each man is to select his pet sin to be indulged with impunity, he must do this either with or without the approbation of God. It cannot be the former, as that would be a case of God sanctioning sin, which cannot be entertained for a moment. And how are we to conceive of a man selecting a single sin for his indulgence without the permission of God? But, suppose we could take in that idea, then the following would result: — Each man would reason from the liberty of the others to a larger liberty for himself, and so the area of rebellion would be perpetually enlarging. If all selected the same sin, the terrific state of society may be imagined. Suppose, for instance, all men kept every other commandment, but all felt at liberty to violate the eighth. The absolute worthlessness of all property would immediately ensue, and the progress of civilisation come to a dead halt. Suppose all carefully obeyed every precept of the law but the sixth, and every man felt at liberty to commit homicide at any time. It is plain that all the wit and energy of each man would be concentrated on the preservation of a life which would be worthless, because it would be reduced to a mere existence, denied of every pleasure which comes from human intercourse. In this case, as well as in the case of one man selecting lying, and another adultery, and another theft, and another murder, it is plain that human society would dissolve and the moral government of the universe would collapse. This is so plainly a necessary principle of all government, that it is acknowledged in all known codes of human jurisprudence. That a man has paid every debt but one would not discharge the obligation to pay that debt. Many a man has been hanged for a solitary act of malicious homicide. To the defence of the accused might be brought proof of a general course of even exemplary conduct.
(G. F. Deems, D. D.)ad infinitum. So the transgression of but one law of God: it is ruinous to the soul; it leads on to innumerable transgressions; it violates the whole code.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
(A. B. Grosart, LL. D.)A famous ruby was offered to this country. The report of the crown jeweller was that it was the finest he had ever seen or heard of, but that one of its facets was slightly fractured. The result was, that almost invisible flaw reduced its value by thousands of pounds, and it was rejected from the regalia of England.
(A. B. Grosart, LL. D.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(E. H. Plumptre, D. D.)
Family Treasury.A traveller relates that, when passing through an Austrian town, his attention was directed to a forest on a slope near the road, and he was told that death was the penalty of cutting down one of those trees. He was incredulous until he was further informed that they were the protection of the city, breaking the force of the descending avalanche which, without this natural barrier, would sweep over the homes of thousands. To transgress once is to lay the axe at the root of the tree which represents the security and peace of every loyal soul in the wide dominion of the Almighty.
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