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III. We shall examine the claims of the flesh by the aspect they bear on our future interests. Before we engage in the service of a master, it is reasonable to inquire into the advantages he stipulates, and the prospects of futurity attendant upon his service. In the ordinary concerns of life, we should consider the neglect of such an inquiry chargeable with the highest imprudence. Dreadful is it, in this view, to reflect on the consequences inseparably annexed to the service of corruption. “ If ye live after the flesh,” says the apostle, “ ye shall die.”* “ The wages of sin is death."of And, to demonstrate the close and unavoidable connexion subsisting between them, he adds, “ If ye sow to the flesh, ye shall of the flesh reap corruption.”. It is not an incidental connexion, it is an indissoluble one, fixed in the constitution of things. “Lust, when it is conceived, bringeth forth sin, and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”S If we live in the indulgence of carnal appetites, if we comply habitually with the dictates of corrupt nature; the word of God has assured us of what will follow : “ The end of these things is death." || “Let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God on the children of disobedience.” “ Be not deceived, God is not mocked: whatsoever a man soweth, that also shall he reap."** For this
* Rom. viii. 13. $ James i. 15.
† Rom. vi. 23. || Rom. vi. 21. ** Gal. vi. 7.
Gal. vi. 8. | Ephes. v. 6.
reason we can never be debtors to the flesh to live after the flesh; the very reason assigned in the clause immediately following the text. We can never be under obligations to obey such a master, who rewards his services with death ; death, spiritual and eternal. The fruits of sin, when brought to maturity, are corruption : his most finished production is death ; and the materials on which he works the fabric of that manufacture, if we may be allowed so to speak, consist in the elements of damnation. To such a master we can owe nothing but a decided rejection of his offers, a perpetual abhorrence, and an awful fear of ever being deceived by his stratagems, or entangled in his snares.
ON THE CAUSE, AGENT, AND PURPOSE OF
James i. 18.—Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth,
that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. In this chapter the apostle endeavours to fortify the minds of the professors of christianity, under the various trials and persecutions to which their religion exposed them, by assuring them of the happy fruits, in their spiritual improvement, they might expect to reap from them here, and the more abundant reward which awaited them here
after. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”*
Lest any might be induced to relax in their vigilance, under an idea that the circumstances of their trial were too arduous, and that if they shrunk in the combat they might excuse themselves from the consideration of its being disproportioned to their strength, and that they were, therefore, in fact, tempted of God, he takes pains to repel this insinuation, and to shew, that the success of any temptation whatever is solely to be imputed to the unbridled corruption of the human heart. It is, he tells us, “ when a man is drawn away by his own heart's lust, and enticed,” that he is “tempted;" this sinful corruption has its origin in his own heart only ; nor is in the smallest degree to be imputed to God, as though he impelled to it by a direct agency, or so ordered things, in the course of his providence, as to render it unavoidable. The sum of his doctrine on this head appears to be this, that all evil is from ourselves, and from the disordered state of our hearts, on which temptation operates; while, on the contrary, all moral and spiritual good is from God, and “cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”I The communications of grace are emphatically denominated, “ good and perfect gifts,” by way of asserting their immeasurable superiority to the blessings which
* James i. 2, 3. | James i. 14. James i. 17.
relate to the present life; and of these gifts St. James affirms, that every one of them “is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.” Their origin is truly celestial : they are not capable of being communicated, like the good things of this life, by one human being to another; they are, strictly speaking, divine donations, which can only proceed from above. As a farther illustration of the proposition he had been laying down, he introduces the words of the text: “ Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." These words instruct us in the cause, the instrument, and the end, of the renovation of christians.
1. The cause is “the will” of God;—God operating by a free and spontaneous agency. His grace imparted in regeneration must be acknowledged to be grace the most free and unmixed, the fruit of his sovereign will, in opposition to any necessity of nature to which it may be ascribed : for though the nature of his agency cannot but be consonant to his character, though the fruit of his Spirit cannot but be most pure and holy, yet he was under no necessity to interpose at all. That the effect of his special operation on the hearts of the faithful should be sanctifying, is unavoidable; but his operating at all by his Spirit, in the restoration of a fallen creature, is to be ascribed solely to “ his own good pleasure.”*
# Phil. ii. 13.
It is of his own will, as opposed, not only to a necessity of nature in him, but to any claim of merit in the subject of this his gracious agency. No previous worthiness of ours, no attractive excellence in us, engaged his attention, or induced him to exert his power in our renovation : for whence could this arise in a creature so fallen and corrupt as to need so thorough a renovation ? Or how, since “every good and perfect gift cometh from above,” can it be supposed to subsist previous to, or apart from, his donation? In the context the apostle has been strongly insisting on it, that the beginning of all moral evil is to be ascribed to man; the beginning of all good to the Supreme Being; and it is in supporting this assertion he introduces the words of the text, “Of his own will begat he us.”
No signs of virtuous and laudable conduct had ensued to procure the communication of divine grace, agreeable to what another apostle observes, in his epistle to Titus : “ not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost."* · The production and maintenance of religion is styled, by the same writer, “the good pleasure of his will.” of
II. The instrument of this renovation is “the word of truth.” In infusing the principle of divine life into the soul, God is wont to employ the gospel
* Titus iïi. 5. + 2 Thess. i. 11.