Be ye doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving your ownselves. James 1:22.
There are two extremes in religion, equally false and equallyfatal. And there are two classes of hypocrites that occupy thesetwo extremes. The first class make religion to consist altogetherin the belief of certain abstract doctrines, or what they callfaith, and lay little or no stress on good works. The other classmake religion to consist altogether in good works, (I mean, deadworks) and lay little or no stress on faith in Jesus Christ, buthope for salvation by their own deeds. The Jews belonged generallyto the last-mentioned class. Their religious teachers taught themthat they would be saved by obedience to the ceremonial law. Andtherefore, when Paul began to preach, he seems to have attackedmore especially this error of the Jews. He was determined to carrythe main question, that men are justified by faith in Jesus Christ,in opposition to the doctrine of the scribes and pharisees, thatsalvation is by obedience to the law. And he pressed that pointso earnestly, in his preaching andin his epistles, that he carriedit, and settled the faith of the church in the great doctrineof justification by faith. And then certain individuals in thechurch laid hold of this doctrine and carried it to the oppositeextreme, and maintained that men are saved by faith altogether,irrespective of works of any kind. They overlooked the plain principle,that genuine faith always results in good works, and is itselfa good work.
I said that these two extremes, that which makes religion toconsist altogether in outward works and that which makes it consistaltogether in faith, are equally false and equally fatal. Thosewho make religion consist altogether in good works, overlook thefact that works themselves are not acceptable to God unless theyproceed from faith. For without faith it is impossible to pleasehim. And those who make religion consist altogether in faith,overlook the fact that true faith always worksby love, and invariablyproduces the works of love.
They are equally fatal, because, on the one hand, without faithpersons cannot be pardoned or justified; and on the other, withoutsanctification they cannot be fitted either to the employmentsor enjoyments of heaven. Let a sinner turn from his sins altogether,and suppose his works to be as perfect as he thinks them to be,and yet he could not be pardoned without faith in the atonementof Jesus Christ. And so if any one supposed that he could be justifiedby faith while his works were evil, he ought to know that withoutsanctification his faith is but dead, and cannot even be the instrumentof his justification.
It appears that the apostle James, in this epistle, designedto put this matter upon the right ground, and show exactly wherethe truth lay, and to explain the necessity, and reason of thenecessity, of both faith and good works. This epistle is a verypractical one, and it meets full in the face all the great practicalquestions of the day, and decides them.
Doctrines in religion are of two classes, those which referto God, and those which refer to human practice. Many confinetheir idea of religious doctrines to the former class. They thinknothing is properly called doctrine but what respects God, hisattributes, mode of existence, decrees, and so on. When I gavenotice that I should commence a course of "Practical Lectures,"I hope you did not understand me to mean that the lectures wouldnot be doctrinal, or would have no doctrine in them. My designis to preach, if the Lord will, a course of lectures on practicaldoctrines. The doctrine which I propose to consider now, is thisthat professor of religion who does not practice what he admitsto be true, is self-deceived.
There are two classes of hypocrites among professors of religion,those that deceive others and those that deceive themselves. Oneclass of hypocrites are those that, under a specious outside ofmorality and religion, cover up the enmity of their hearts againstGod, and lead others to think they are very pious people. Thusthe pharisees obtained the reputation of being remarkably pious,by their outside show of religion, their alms and their long prayers.The other class is that referred to in the text, who do not deceiveothers but themselves.
These are orthodox in sentiment, but loose in practice. Theyseem to suppose religion to consist in a parcel of notions, withoutregard to practice, and thus deceive themselves by thinking theyare good Christians while destitute of true holiness. They arehearers of the word but not doers. They love orthodox preaching,and take great pleasure in hearing the abstract doctrines of religionexhibited, and perhaps have fights of imagination and glowingfeelings in view of the character and government of God, but theyare not careful to practice the precepts of God's word, nor arethey pleased with the preaching of those doctrines which relateto human practice.
Perhaps there are some present tonight of both these classesof hypocrites. Now mark! I am not going to preach tonight to thoseof you who, by great strictness of morals and outside show ofreligion, deceive others. I address, now, those of you who donot practice what you know to be true who are hearers and notdoers. Perhaps I had better say, to secure attention, that itis very probable there are a number here now of this character.I do not know your names; but I wish you to understand, that ifyou are that character, you are the persons I am speaking to,just as if I called out your names. I mean you. You hear the word,and believe it in theory, while you deny it in practice. I sayto you, that "you deceive yourselves." The text provesit. Here you have an express "Thus saith the Lord" forit, that all such characters are self-deceivers. I might quotea number of other passages of scripture, that are to the point,and there leave it. But I wish to call your attention to someother considerations beside the direct scripture testimony. Inthe first place, you do not truly believe the word. You hear it,and admit it to be true, but you do not truly believe it. Andhere let me say, that persons are themselves liable to deceptionon this point. Not that their consciousness deceives them, butthey do not understand what it is that consciousness testifies.
Two things are indispensable to evangelical, or saving faith.The first is intellectual conviction of the truth of a thing.And here I do not mean merely the abstract truth of it, but inits bearing on you. The truth, in its relation to you, or itsbearing on your conduct, must be received intellectually. Andthen true faith includes a corresponding state of the heart. Thisalways enters into the essence of true faith. When a man's understandingis convinced, and he admit the truth in its relation to himself,then there must be a hearty approbation of it in its bearing orrelation to himself. Both these states of mind are indispensableto truth faith. Intellectual conviction of the truth is not savingfaith. But intellectual conviction, then accompanied with a correspondingstate of the affections, is saving faith Hence it follows thatwhere there is true saving faith, there is always correspondingconduct. The conduct always follows the real faith. Just as certainas the will controls the conduct, men will act as they believe.Suppose I say to a man, Do you believe this? "Yes, I believeit." What does he mean? A mere intellectual conviction? Hemay have that and yet not have faith.
A man may even feel an approbation of an abstract truth. Thisis what many persons suppose to be faith the approbation whichthey feel for the character and government of God, and for theplan of salvation, when viewed abstractedly. Many persons, whenthey hear an eloquent sermon on the attributes or government ofGod, are set all in a glow at the excellency displayed, when theyhave not a particle of true faith. I have heard of an infidel,who would be moved even to ecstasy at such themes. The rationalmind is so constituted that it naturally and necessarily approvesof truth when viewed abstractedly.
The wickedest devils in hell love it, if they can see it withoutits relation to themselves. If they could see the gospel withoutany relation that interferes with their own selfishness, theywould not only see it to be true, but would heartily approve ofit. All hell, if they could view God in his absolute existence,without any relation to themselves, would heartily approve hischaracter. The reason why wicked men and devils hate God is, becausethey see him in relation to themselves. Their hearts rise up inrebellion, because they see him opposed to their selfishness.
Here is the source of a grand delusion among men in regardto religion. They see, it to be, true, and they really rejoicein contemplating it; they do not enter into its relation to themselves,and so they love to hear such preaching, and say they are fedby it. But mark! They go away and do not practice. See that man!he is sick, and his feelings are tender. In view of Christ, asa kind and tender Savior, his heart melts and he feels strongemotions of approbation towards Jesus Christ. Why? For the verysame reasons that he would feel strong emotions toward the heroof a romance. But he does not obey Christ. He never practicesone thing out of obedience to Christ, but views him abstractedly,and is delighted with his glorious and lovely character, whilehe himself remains in the gall of bitterness. Thus it is apparentthat your faith must be an efficient faith, such as regulatesyour practice and produces good works, or it is not the faithof the gospel, it is no real faith at all.
Again. It is further manifest that you are deceiving yourselves,because all true religion consists in obedience. And therefore,however much you may approve of Christianity, you have no religionunless you obey it. In saying that all religion consists in obedience,I do not mean outward obedience. But faith itself, true faith,work by love, and produces corresponding action. There is no realobedience but the obedience of the heart; love is the fulfillingof the law; and religion consists in the obedience of the heart,with a corresponding course of life. The man, therefore, who hearsthe truth, and approves it, and does not practice it, deceivethhimself. He is like the man beholding his natural face in a glass;for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgettethwhat manner of a man he was.
Again. That state of mind which you mistake for religion, anintellectual conviction of truth, and approval of it in the abstract,so far from being evidence that you pious, is as common to thewicked as to be good, whenever they can be brought to look atit abstractedly. This is the reason why it is often so difficultto convince sinners that they are opposed to God and his truth.Men are so constituted that they do approve of virtue, and doadmire the character and government of God, and would approveand admire every truth in the Bible, if they could view it abstractedly,and without any relation to themselves. And when they sit underpreaching that holds up the truth in such a way, that it has notmuch of a practical bearing on themselves, they may sit for yearsand never consider that they are opposed to God and his government.
And I am more and more persuaded, that great multitudes areto be found in all our congregations, where the abstract doctrinesof the gospel are much preached, who like the preaching and liketo hear about God, and all these things, and yet are unconverted.And no doubt multitudes of them get into the churches, becausethey love orthodox preaching, when, after all, it is manifestthat they are not doers of the word. And here is the difficulty;they have not had that searching preaching that made them seethe truth in its bearing on themselves. And now they are in thechurch, whenever the truth is preached in its practical relationto them, they show the enmity of their hearts unchanged, by risingup in opposition to truth.
They took it for granted that they were Christians, and sojoined the church, because they could hear sound doctrinal preachingandapprove of it, or because they read the Bible and approved ofit.
If their faith be not so practical as to influence their conduct,if they do not view the truth in its relation to their own practice,their faith does not affect them so much as the FAITH OF THE DEVIL.
1. Great injury has been done by false representations regardingthe wickedness of real Christians.
A celebrated preacher, not long since, is said to have giventhis definition of a Christian "A little grace and a greatdeal of devil." I utterly deny this definition. It is falseand ruinous. A great deal is said that makes an impression thatreal Christians are the wickedest beings of the face of the earth.It is true that when they do sin, they incur great guilt. Fora Christian to sin is highly criminal. And it is also true thatenlightened Christians see in their sins great wickedness. Whenthey compare their obligations with their lives, they are greatlyhumbled, and express their humility in very strong language. Butit is not true that they are as bad as the devil, or anywherein the neighborhood of it. This is perfectly demonstrable. Whenthey do sin, their sins have great aggravation, and appear extremelywicked in the sight of God. But to suppose that men are real Christianswhile they live in the service of the devil, and have little ofeven the appearance of religion, is a sentiment that is not onlyfalse but of very dangerous tendency. It is calculated to encourageall that class of hypocrites who are Antinomians, and to encouragebacksliders, as well as to do a great injury to the cause of Christin the estimation of scorners. The truth is those who do not obeyGod are not Christian. The contrary doctrine is ruinous to thechurches, by filling them up with multitudes whose claim to pietydepends on their adoption of certain notions, while they neverheartily intended to obey the requirements of the gospel in theirlives.
2. Those who are so much more zealous for doctrines than forpractice, and who lay much more stress on that class of doctrineswhich relate to God than on that class which relate to their ownconduct, are Antinomians.
There are many who will receive that class of the doctrinesof the Bible that relate to God and approve and love them, whohave not a particle of religion. Those who are never "fed,"as they call it, on any preaching but that of certain abstractpoints of doctrine, are Antinomians. They are the very personsagainst whom the apostle James wrote this epistle. They make religionto consist in a set of notions, while they do not lead holy lives.
3. That class of professors of religion who never like to hearabout God or his attributes, or mode of existence, the Trinity,decrees, election, and the like, but lay all stress in religiouspractice to the exclusion of religious doctrine, are pharisees.
They make great pretensions to outward piety, and perhaps toinward flights of emotion of a certain poetical cast, while theywill not receive the great truths that relate to God, but denythe fundamental doctrines of the gospel.
4. The proper end and tendency of all right doctrine, whentruly believed, is to produce correct practice.
Wherever you find a man's practice heretical, you may be surehis belief is heretical too. The faith that he holds in his heartis just as heretical as his life. He may not be heretical in hisnotions and theories. He may be right there, even on the verypoints where he is heretical in practice. But he does not reallybelieve it.
For illustration: See that careless sinner there, graspingwealth, and rushing headlong in the search for riches. Does thatman truly believe he is ever going to die? Perhaps you will say,he knows he must die. But I say, while he is in this attitude,he does not actually believe he is ever going to die. The subjectis one which is not before his thoughts at all. And thus it is,therefore, impossible that he should believe it in his utter thoughtlessness.To ask him if he expect ever to die, and he will reply, "Oyes, I know I must die; all men are mortal." As soon as heturns his thoughts to it, he assents to the truth. And if youcould fasten the conviction on his mind till he is really andpermanently impressed with it, he would infallibly change hisconduct, and live for another world instead of this. It is justso in religion; whatever a man really believes is just as certainto control his practice as that the will governs the conduct.
5. The church has for a long time acted too much on the Antinomialpolicy.
She has been sticklish for the more abstract doctrines, andleft the more practical too much out of view. She has laid greaterstress on orthodoxy in those doctrines that are not practical,than in those that are practical. Look at the creeds of the church,and see how they all lay the main stress on those doctrines thathave little relation to our practice. A man may be the greatestheretic on points of practice, provided he is not openly profaneand vicious, and yet maintain a good standing in the church, whetherhis life corresponds with the gospel or not. Is not this monstrous?And hence we see that when it is attempted to purify the churchin regard to practical errors, she cannot bear it. Why else isit that so much excitement is produced by attempting to clearthe church from participation in sins of intemperance, and Sabbath-breaking,and slavery? Why is it so difficult to induce the church to doanything effectual for the conversion of the world? Oh, when shallthe church be purified, or the world converted? Not till it isa settled point, that heresy in practice is the proof of heresyin belief. Not while a man may deny the whole gospel in his practiceevery day, and yet maintain his standing in the church as a goodChristian.
6. See how a minister may be deceived in regard to the stateof his congregation.
He preaches a good deal on the abstract doctrines, that donot immediately relate to practice, and his people say they arefed, and rejoice in it, and he thinks they are growing in grace,when in fact it is no certain sign that there is any religionamong them. It is manifest that this is not certain evidence.But if when he preaches practical doctrines, his people show thatthey love the truth in relation to themselves, and show it bypracticing it, then they give evidence of real love to the truth.
If a minister find that his people love abstract doctrinalpreaching, but that when he comes to press the practical doctrinesthey rebel, he may be sure that if they have any religion, itis in a low state; and if he find, on fair trial, that he cannotbring them up to it, so as to receive practical doctrine, he maybe satisfied they have not a particle of religion, but are a merecompany of Antinomians, who think they can go to heaven on a deadfaith in abstract orthodoxy.
7. See what a vast multitude of professors of religion thereare who are deceiving themselves.
Many suppose they are Christians from the emotions they feelin view of the truth, when in fact what they receive is truthpresented to their minds in such a way that they do not see itsbearing on themselves. If you bring the truth so to bear on them,as to destroy their pride and cut them off from their worldliness,such professors resist it. Look abroad upon the church. See whata multitude of orthodox churches and orthodox Christians liveand feed upon the abstract doctrines of religion from year toyear.
Then look farther at their lives, and see how little influencetheir professed belief has upon their practice. Have they savingfaith? It cannot be. I do not mean to say that none of these churchmembers are pious, but I do say that those who do not adopt inpractice what they admit in theory who are hearers of the wordbut not doers deceive themselves.
Inquire now how many of you really believe the truths you hearpreached. I have proposed to preach a course of "practical"lectures. I do not mean that I shall preach lectures that haveno doctrine in them. That is not preaching at all. But what Idesire is, to see whether you will, as a church, do what you believeto be true. If I do not succeed in convincing you that any doctrineI may maintain is really true, that is another affair. That isreason enough why you should not do it. But if I do succeed inproving from the scriptures, and convincing your understanding,that it is true, and yet you do not practice it, I shall thenhave the evidence before my own eyes what your character is, andno longer deceive myself with the idea that this is a Christianchurch.
Are you conscious that the gospel is producing a practicaleffect upon you, according to your advancement in knowledge? Isit weaning you from the world? Do you find this to be your experience,that when you receive any practical truth into your minds youlove it, and love to feel its application to yourself, and takepleasure in practicing it? If you are not growing in grace, becomingmore and more holy, yielding yourselves up to the influence ofthe gospel, you are deceiving yourselves. How is it now with youwho are elders of this church? How is it with you who are headsof families all of you? When you hear a sermon, do you seize holdof it and take it home to you, and practice it? Or do you receiveit into your minds, and approve of it, and never practice it?Woe to that man who admits the truth, and yet turns away and doesnot practice it, like the man beholding his natural face in aglass turning away and forgetting what manner of man he was.
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