First part of Sermon XLI. for the Fifth Sunday after Easter.
If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what
ye will, and it shall be done unto you.—St. JOHN xv. 7.
We observed on Sunday last, that there was a danger of persons being
taken up too exclusively with what may be considered spiritual in religion,
to the neglect of what is practical. It is against this that St. James
warns us in the Epistle for today. Be ye doers of the Word, he says,
and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For he had said just
before, as we read in the Epistle for Sunday last, “receive with meekness
the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls.” But how is it able
to save the soul ? surely not unless it is received in obedience; unless
obedience follows the reception of it; otherwise it is not a real reception
of the Living Word, but only a self-delusion of the heart.
For if any be a hearer of the Word, and not a doer, he is like unto
a man beholding his natural face in a glass. For he beholdeth himself,
and goeth his way, and straight-way forgetteth what manner of man he was.
The Word of God is like a glass, wherein a man may behold what he is, as
in the light of God; how far he has fallen away from the image of Christ;
how many wrong things there are in his temper and daily conduct; how excellent
are the things of God; how important the objects of eternity. He sees,
he acknowledges, he is perhaps for the moment feelingly affected.
But what avails all this, if in his conduct the day after he is as if he
had never known it? Alas! the feelings of yesterday compared with
the conduct of to-day are often like coming down from Heaven to earth.
Yet there is no man, however corrupted, who has not that within him which
must at times approve of the things that are more excellent; and on the
other hand, there is no one so perfect, but that the struggles of an evil
nature will not at times obscure and cloud the vision of God. Indeed, the
danger on this subject is so vast and extensive, that we may observe in
the two longest discourses which are given us of our Lord Himself—the Sermon
on the Mount in St. Matthew, and His discourses at the Last Supper in St.
John’s Gospel—there is nothing on which He so much dwells throughout, continually
repeating His exhortations and warnings, a son the danger of saying, Lord,
Lord, and doing not His will; of hearing His sayings and doing them not;
so as to be like a house built on the sand: of abiding in the Vine by obedience,
and of bearing fruit; of continuing in Christ’s love, which can only be
by keeping His commandments.
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty. That is, the
spiritual law of the Gospel; when the love of God is shed abroad in the
heart, and “His commandments are not grievous;" when we love what God loves;
when we are loosed from the chain of our sins, and having no other will
but God’s will, we find in His service perfect freedom; ‘when thus beholding
as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are in beholding changed into the
same image by obedience. Whoso thus “looketh into the perfect law of liberty,”
and continueth therein, abideth in that law, and in so doing abideth
in Christ;’ [St. John xv. 4, 5.] he being not a forgetful hearer, but
a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed, or rather
in his conduct, in all that he doeth: “look, whatsoever he doeth it shall
But on the contrary, if any among you seem to be religious, i.
e. a worshipper of God, a devout person, and bridleth not his tongue,
but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. The first
indication of the heart not being right with God is the tongue; and this
will show itself in apparently religious persons, when the “candle of the
Lord " [Prov. xx. 27.] is used by them, not “to search the inward parts,”
but to see the faults of others; when they behold others in the glass of
God’s Word, not themselves; are given to censure, envious judging, and
other worldly converse. Their “religion,” i. e. their worship of God, must
be “vain;” their prayers are not heard; there is no love of God, and therefore
no real devotion.
What, therefore, is that “meekness” wherewith we are to receive the
engrafted saving Word? St. James describes it after his manner in a few
words: Pure religion, and undefiled, the acceptable sacrifice without
blemish, before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless
and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the
world. It is that same acceptableness which the Judge Himself describes
at the last day, “I was sick and ye visited Me;” it is the law of love
as Christ hath loved us, viz. “to comfort all that mourn ; “ [Isa. lxi.
2] it is to be in this world even as Christ Himself was. This is the love
of God; these are its unfailing fruits. But together with this charity
to others must be the keeping of our own heart; “to keep himself unspotted
from the world “—from the touch of that wicked one—any secret love of sin;
for “if any man love the world,” says St. John, “the love of the Father
is not in him.” [1 St. John ii.15.] (for the second part, on the Gospel.)
Now it may be observed, that this short lesson from St. James is to
teach us what will render our religion substantial and our prayers effectual
“Ye are My friends,” says our Lord, “if ye do whatsoever I command you.”
This friendship with God, as our Lord is pleased to express it, this having
His ears open unto our prayers, depends on this life of active charity
and purity of heart. As St. John also says, “Whatsoever we ask we receive
of Him, because we keep His commandments." [1 St. John iii. 22.]
This is especially to be noticed on this Sunday, because it is Rogation
Sunday—the Sunday of prayer and supplication—the season in which we wait
for the coming of the Comforter; the pledge and promise of Whose coming
is attached to this obedience. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments, and
I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He
may abide with you for ever.”