Choice Devotional Selections
Taken from the works of John Angell James
He who trifles with it is a fool!
If the man who trembles at death is a coward; he who
trifles with it is a fool! There is a thousand times more
rationality in the trembler—than in the trifler!
There is a phenomenon in the rational world well
worthy of consideration, inquiry, and solution—the
strange and fatal insensibility of men to the grand
fact that they are mortal! Since it is infallibly certain
that they must and will die—and since death is so
solemn an event—how does it happen that so few
ever seriously think of it, or really prepare for it?
One would think that so grand and solemn a fact
as death, especially viewed in connection with the
events which are to immediately follow it—heaven,
hell and eternity—along with the uncertainty how
soon it may be realized—might operate with an
unlimited and altogether overpowering influence
upon men's minds and hearts!
But men wish to forget death!
They try to forget it—and alas, too often succeed
in accomplishing this fatal oblivion! Yet we can
scarcely wonder at this, when we consider what
is their spiritual condition—and what death is!
It is the commonness of death, which deprives it
of its extreme dreadfulness. If death happened in
our world only once in a century, it would be felt
like the shock of an earthquake; and would hush
the inhabitants of earth into a breathless silence,
while the echoes of the knell of the departed soul
were reverberating around the globe!
Death is . . .
the moment of destiny;
the seal of eternity;
the cessation of probation;
the commencement of retribution and judgment!
The antecedents of death are dreadful—so are
the accompaniments—so are the consequences!
To every sense—death is revolting!
To every social affection—death is crucifying!
To reason—death is perplexing!
To everything but saving faith—death is overwhelming!
Travelling to glory, honour, immortality and eternal life!
Earth is to its inhabitants, neither a paradise nor
a desert. If it has not all the beautiful scenes and
productions of a paradise—so neither has it all the
dreariness and desolation of a desert. This world is
called "a valley of tears," but it is not less true that
it is sometimes a valley without the tears. It often
wears a smiling aspect, and reflects the light of
God's graciousness and bounty.
We know very well that man's chief portion lies in
the blessings of salvation, and the hope of eternal
glory. These are so vast as almost to reduce all else
to nothing. Full pardon of sin, and the hope of an
eternity of pure and perfect felicity, are such
amazing expectations, as might seem to render
us absolutely indifferent alike to . . .
poverty and riches;
pain and ease;
obscurity and renown.
How little would it signify to him who was going to take
possession of a kingdom and a throne, whether he travelled
through a desert or a garden; or whether he dined meagerly
or sumptuously; or whether he had all best accommodations
and conveniences along the way. His thoughts would be so
engrossed with the permanent scenes of greatness, grandeur,
power, and wealth before him—as to be almost insensible to
the privations or comforts along the way. So it is, with a
Christian traveling to glory, honour, immortality and
It is incumbent upon Christians to let their spirit and
conduct be consistent with the hope of eternal glory,
in that eminent spirituality and heavenliness of mind,
which are manifested in a supreme, constant, and
practical regard to divine and eternal things.
A Christian's habits
Christian parents should resist the entrance
of worldly conformity into their families.
vain and frivolous amusements,
showy modes of dress,
should be most cautiously avoided!
True religion will not dwell amid such scenes;
her refined and spiritual taste is soon offended,
and she retires.
A Christian's habits should be simple and spiritual.
If it is his aim to approach as nearly as possible to
the manners of the world without actually being
numbered with its votaries, his children will be
restrained with difficulty, on the godly side of the
line of demarcation, and be perpetually longing
and trying to push onward towards worldliness.
The miserable efforts, made by some professing
Christians, to be thought people of taste and
fashion, show how badly they bear the Christian
yoke, and how nearly they are resolved to cast
it away as an encumbrance. We would despise
these things wherever we see them, if they did
not demand claims upon our pity, still stronger
than those upon our scorn.
When a worldly temper has crept into the circle
of a Christian family, piety retires before it, and
the spirit of error soon enters to take possession
of the desolate home.
Christ's seemingly inexplicable conduct
Behold the Canaanite woman appealing to Incarnate Mercy
for her demon-possessed daughter, beseeching for a cure from
Him who alone could effect it, and whom she believed could, if
He would. What a plea! "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!
My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession!" One
would think that such an appeal of course will be instantly heard
and granted. "But Jesus gave her no reply—not even a word!"
What! the 'ear of pity' deaf to such a petition! "What!" one
would have imagined she would say, "is this the mercy, the
fame of which has reached even my afflicted home? Will He
not hear me, look on me, answer me? Must I return, and tell
all who come to inquire about my plight—that He would not
bestow a word or even a look, upon me?"
To increase her distress and discouragement, the disciples
urged Jesus to send her away. "Tell her to leave," they said.
"She is bothering us with all her begging." Is this all the mercy
that could be found in the hearts of all the twelve apostles?
Poor woman, we pity you. There is very little hope for you!
Jesus at length breaks silence, and says, "I was sent only to
help the people of Israel—God's lost sheep—not the Gentiles."
His harsh words are more distressing than His silence!
Still her faith holds on, and her prayer continues, for "she came
and worshiped Him and pleaded again—Lord, help me!" To this
He makes a reply that seems to add insult to neglect. "It isn't
right to take food from the children—and throw it to the dogs!"
Mysterious answer! O Saviour, how apparently unlike Yourself!
What must have been the poor widow's reflections—"My heart is
now almost broken—am I not a Gentile woman? and must I be
called a dog? Is it thus He will deny His own character, and
break the bruised reed? Must I go home and look upon my poor
child with the sting of this insult and its venom rankling in my
Surely she will now give up her suit—stop her plea—and renounce
her faith. Yes, she would have done so—had her faith been less
strong. "Yes, Lord," she replied, "but even dogs are permitted to
eat crumbs that fall beneath their master's table!" Marvellous reply,
one of the finest responses which language ever formed, and the
most ingenious reasoning's ever drawn.
Jesus could hold out no longer. He could protract the trial no
farther. Like Joseph under the influence of his feelings, when his
heart was moved by the discourse of his brothers; Jesus drops
the innocent disguise which His bursting compassion could not
sustain another moment, and with delighted surprise He exclaims,
"Woman, your faith is great! Your request is granted!"
What was the meaning of all this? What was the secret of Christ's
seemingly inexplicable conduct? What? He saw He had a subject
which would enable Him to exhibit to the world an extraordinary
instance of faith in prayer, and He determined to draw it forth in
all its power and beauty. His heart was moved towards her from
the beginning. He knew what He would do—and though He beat
her off with one hand, He held her fast by the other.
Here then we have an instance of prayer continued under delays,
apparent neglect, and repulse—and continued through the power
of faith. The woman still believed that there was mercy in that
heart, to which she for a long time appealed in vain, and that
she should ultimately succeed—and she did. "And her daughter
was instantly healed!"
Turn away from the lovely enchantress!
"Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for
when you love the world, you show that you do not have
the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only
the lust for physical pleasure, the lust for everything we
see, and pride in our possessions. These are not from
the Father. They are from this evil world." 1 John 2:15-16
Such is the world that assails the Christian, and which
he must overcome—or perish eternally! He is aware of
his danger from the strength, subtlety, and ever-present
activity of this enemy of his soul.
The whole current of Scripture commands runs against the
love of the world. In every possible form, it is forbidden.
Worldliness is the most thronged road to everlasting ruin!
Worldliness does not merely consist in an intense love
of money, and an excessive eagerness to be rich—but in
a supreme regard to that which is visible and temporal,
whether these relate to the quiet scenes of domestic
comfort, or to those elegancies, splendours, and accumulations
of wealth, which lead a man to seek his highest bliss in these!
The world is a foe which attacks us in various places! In the
shop—by all the temptations incident to trade and wealth. In
the halls of politics and public business—by all the enticements
to pride and ambition. In the places of amusement—by all the
soft blandishments of pleasure. In the haunts of vice—by all the
gratifications of appetite. In the scenes of nature—by all the
delights of taste and imagination. In the walks of science and
literature—by all the delights of intellectual gratification. In the
social circle—by all the enjoyments of friendship. In the domestic
retreat—by all the sweets of marital bliss. Oh, how many are
the scenes where the world meets man and subdues him!
Sometimes the world approaches the believer with a smiling
face, making promises and offering caresses, like the serpent
to our first mother in the garden; or like Satan to our Lord
when he said, "All these things will I give you—if you will fall
down and worship me!" How difficult is it on such occasions
to turn away from the lovely enchantress, to keep the eye
steadily fixed on heavenly glories—and instead of greedily
quaffing the cup of poisoned sweets, to dash it on the ground!
If immorality slays its thousands—the world slays its ten
thousands! 'Supreme love of the world' will as certainly lead
its possessor to the bottomless pit, as the love of open vice!
Worldliness, I repeat, and repeat with emphasis, is . . .
the most polished,
the most fashionable,
the most respectable
path to the bottomless pit!
Victory over the world is subordination . . .
of the creature to the Creator;
of earth to heaven;
of temporal blessings to spiritual ones;
of time to eternity.
Victory over the world is the formation of an unearthly,
spiritual, divine, and heavenly mind-set and character!
"It was the sight of Your dear cross,
First weaned my soul from earthly things;
And taught me to esteem as dross,
The mirth of fools and pomp of kings!"
How all the splendour of earthly things pales before
that infinitely more resplendent object—Jesus!
All this loveliness of character
"Without holiness no one will see the Lord." Hebrews 12:14
An unholy person cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
There is a vast difference between sanctification—and the
common morality of life. There are many people who are . . .
very amiable in their dispositions,
very just in their transactions,
very excellent in all their relationships,
very lovely in their general character;
but who at the same time, whatever esteem and
affection they may have—are not in a state of
sanctification. They . . .
have never been convinced of sin,
have never exercised faith in Christ,
have never been born of the Spirit,
have never been brought to love God.
All this loveliness of character is but the beautiful
wildflower in the wilderness of unrenewed humanity.
There can be no true holiness apart from the principle
of supreme love to God. Until this is implanted in the
soul, we are under the dominion of supreme selfishness
—and all these excellences may be traced up to self!
God's law is not obeyed; God's glory is not sought,
because God Himself is not loved.
It is a melancholy spectacle, to see so much 'general
excellence of character' as we sometimes witness, all
fruitless to its possessor, as regards the eternal world,
for lack of that Divine principle which transmutes all
this apparently beautiful morality, into true godliness.
Without holiness, whatever amiable and lovely qualities
of a general kind we may possess, we are still . . .
the children of wrath,
the enemies of God,
the subjects of unrenewed corruption,
the heirs of perdition; and
going on to everlasting destruction!
"Without holiness no one will see the Lord." Hebrews 12:14
He is both depraved and condemned!
God created man in His own image—which consisted of
true holiness. No spot of guilt was upon his conscience
—nor spot of depravity upon his heart.
The light of truth irradiated his understanding.
The glow of perfect love warmed his heart.
The choices of his will were all on the side of purity.
His conscience was the seat of perfect peace.
The beauties of holiness adorned his character.
His whole soul was in harmony with the untainted
scenes of Paradise—in which bowers he walked in
undisturbed friendship with God.
No sorrow wrung his heart.
No care wrinkled his brow.
No anxiety broke his rest.
He was happy—because he was holy.
When he sinned, his whole moral condition was
altered! He fell under the condemnation of the law
he had violated, and became the subject of inward
corruption. An entire change passed over his nature.
He not only became guilty—but depraved!
His understanding became darkened!
His affections became selfish and earthly!
His will became prone to choose what is wrong!
His conscience became benumbed!
If he would ever be recovered from this state of
misery, he must be both pardoned and sanctified.
The covenant of God's love and mercy in Christ Jesus
—the glorious scheme of redeeming grace—meets the
whole case of fallen man, by providing not only
justification—but sanctification as well.
Wonderful gospel provision!
Pardon for the guilty!
Sanctification for the unholy!
The condition of the sinner may be likened to that of
a condemned criminal shut up in prison, and infected
with a deadly plague! What he needs, is both the cure
of his plague—and the reversal of his sentence. Neither
alone, will meet his case. If he is only pardoned—he will
die of the plague. If he is only cured of the plague—he
will suffer the just sentence of the law.
So it is with fallen man—he is both depraved and
condemned! If he is only pardoned—his depravity will
be his misery. If he could by any means be reformed
—he is still under sentence of death.
The glory and completeness of the gospel scheme
is, that it provides a cure for the diseases of the
soul—in sanctification; as well as a pardon from
the condemnation of the law—in justification!
A system of religious pauperism?
"Even while we were with you, we gave you this rule:
'Whoever does not work should not eat!' Yet we hear
that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work
and wasting time meddling in other people's business.
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we appeal to
such people—no, we command them: Settle down and
get to work! Earn your own living!" 2 Thesal. 3:10-12
The poor should be conspicuous for their industry, and
should not eat the bread of idleness. The poor have no
right, therefore, to expect, that in consequence of their
association with a Christian church, they are in any
measure released from the obligation of the most
unwearied industry. They are not to be supported
in idleness, nor ought they to look for any financial
allowance, while they are able to provide for themselves
and their family.
The religion of Jesus Christ was never intended to
establish a system of religious pauperism. It is to
be feared, that many have entered into Christian
fellowship on purpose to obtain its funds! This is a
dreadful case, wherever it occurs, and should make
all the poor members of our churches tremble at
the most distant approximation to such a crime!
The only times in which Christians should feel that
they have claims upon the funds of the church, are
when sickness or old age has incapacitated them for
labour; or when the produce of their industry is too
scanty to procure the necessities of life.
The guardian angels of our churches!
"If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries
and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move
mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." 1 Cor. 13:2
We must come back to the first principles of practical
piety, and cultivate the passive virtues of the Christian
character. We must remember that Christianity is being
like Christ, and that unless we partake of that love which
is patient and kind, which does not envy, nor boast, nor
is proud, nor rude, nor self-seeking, nor easily angered,
which keeps no record of wrongs—we are nothing!
Strange indeed it is, that men, who by their own
confession are lost, vile, ruined, helpless sinners,
should lack HUMILITY; and that they who believe
themselves to be saved from hell by unmerited
mercy, should be destitute of LOVE!
We must crucify that selfishness, which fixes upon its
own gratification, and cherish that expansive benevolence
which looks upon the good of others. We must contend
to be lowest—not to be highest! We must seek to please,
and not merely to be pleased.
Let us remember that HUMILITY and LOVE are . . .
the necessary fruits of our doctrines,
the highest beauty of our character, and
the guardian angels of our churches!
The panacea for the world's evils
The secret of the world's moral renovation, and the
panacea for the world's evils, lies compressed in
that one expression of the apostle Paul, "Christ Jesus
came into the world to save sinners!"
This city has so aroused My anger and wrath!
"From the day it was built until now, this city has so
aroused My anger and wrath that I must remove it
from My sight!" Jeremiah 32:31
Let us devoutly acknowledge both the source and
the justice of our calamities. The origin of the evils
that afflict us, is often to be found in the sins which
Sin is the only thing in all the universe which God
hates, and this He abhors wherever He discovers it.
With our limited understanding, and feeble powers of
moral perception, it is impossible for us to form an
adequate idea of the evil of sin, or the light in which
it is contemplated by a God whose understanding
is infinite, and whose purity is immaculate. That law
which men are daily trampling upon, equally without
consideration, without reason, and without penitence,
is most sacred in His eyes, as the emanation and the
transcript of His own holiness. He is also omnipresent
and omniscient. There is not a nook or corner of the
land from which He is excluded. Of every scene of
iniquity He is the constant, though invisible witness.
The whole mass of national guilt, with every the
minutest particular of it, is ever before His eye!
His justice, which consists in giving to all their
due, must incline Him to punish iniquity—and His
power enables Him to do it!
He is the moral governor of the nations, and
concerned to render His providence subservient
to the display of His attributes. And if a people so
highly favoured as we are, notwithstanding our
manifold sins, escape without chastisement—will
not some be ready to question the equity, if not
the very exercise of His administration?
His threatenings against the wicked are to be found
in almost every page of holy Scripture. Nor are the
threatenings of the Bible to be viewed in the light
of mere unreal terrors, as clouds and storms which
the poet's pencil has introduced into the picture; the
creatures of his own imagination, and only intended
to excite the imagination of others.
No! They are solemn realities, intended to operate
by their denunciation as a check upon sin; or if not
so regarded, to be endured in their execution as a
punishment upon our sins! Scripture gives us many
examples in which this has happened. It has preserved
an account of the downfall of nearly all the chief empires,
kingdoms, and cities of antiquity; and that, not as a
mere chronicle of the event, but as a great moral
lesson to the world. Scripture carefully informs us,
that sin was the cause of their ruin!
Volcanoes terrify with their eruptions, and submerge
towns or cities beneath their streams of lava!
Earthquake's convulsive throes bury a population
beneath the ruins of their own abodes!
Hurricanes carry desolation through a country!
Famine whitens the valleys with the bones of the
thousands who have perished beneath its reign!
Pestilence stalks through a land, hurrying
multitudes to the tomb, and filling all that
remain with unutterable terrors!
Wars have been agents in the unparalleled
scenes of bloodshed and misery!
Scripture proclaims that these are to be regarded
as a fearful exposition of the evil nature of
sin, written by the finger of God upon the tablet
of the earth's history!
Visit, in imagination, my countrymen, the spots
where many of these cities once stood, and you
shall see nothing but desolation stalking like a
specter across the plain, lifting its eye to heaven,
and exclaiming, amidst the silence that reigns
around, "The kingdom and the nation that will
not serve You, shall utterly perish!" As you stand
amidst the moldering fragments of departed
grandeur, does not every breeze, as it sighs
through the ruins, seem to say, as a voice from
the sepulcher, "See, therefore, and know that it
is an evil and a bitter thing to sin against the Lord!"
Let us devoutly acknowledge both the source and
the justice of our calamities. The origin of the evils
that afflict us, is often to be found in the sins which
"From the day it was built until now, this city has so
aroused My anger and wrath that I must remove it
from My sight!" Jeremiah 32:31
"The Lord your God pronounced this disaster against this
place. The Lord has brought it about, and has done as He
said. Because you sinned against the Lord and did not
obey his voice, this thing has come upon you."
("The Death of Eminent Ministers, a Public Loss"
A funeral sermon by J. A. James, Nov. 6, 1825)
'Chance' has nothing to do with death! Not the outcast
infant of a day old, exposed by its unnatural mother to
perish by the tiger or the vulture; nor even the sparrow
that dies of hunger in its nest—passes out of life without
the knowledge of God.
"Don't be afraid!" said Christ, "I am the first and the last,
the living one. I was dead, but now I am alive forever! I
have the keys of the unseen world and of death!" What
consolation is there in this sublime declaration! The key
of death is never for a moment entrusted out of His hands
—and never can be wrested from them! Every time a
human being dies, it is by an act of His power, in turning
the key which unlocks the gates of death! Our life is under
the constant and strict observation of His omniscient eye!
He determines the moment when to take the key from His
belt, and throw the portals of immortality back on their
O, what comfort does this impart to us, in reference to
our own lives—to know that exposed as we are to all the
accidents and diseases of this 'world of changes', and
enveloped as we are in darkness as to the consequences
of the next step, and the events of the next hour—that we
cannot die by a random stroke, or by a blind chance! The
key of death must be turned by Him who is infinitely
wise, and powerful, and good!
"See, I am the only God! There are no others. I kill,
and I make alive! I wound, and I heal, and no one
can rescue you from My power!" Deuteronomy 32:39
That one majestic, inconceivable,
and expressive word
"And this is the promise that He Himself made to us:
eternal life." (1 John 2:25)
In the infinite comprehensiveness of this one promise are
included all that the omniscient mind of the Father in the
exercise of His love has contrived in eternity; all that the
incarnate Son has obtained by His sacrifice upon the cross;
and all that the Divine Spirit has revealed upon the page of
Scripture; and all which is contained in that one majestic,
inconceivable, and expressive word—HEAVEN!
I do not need flamboyant descriptions and eloquent
representations of the celestial state, to raise my desires
and hopes. It is enough to know that it is GLORY, first
prepared, then promised, and ultimately bestowed by
Jehovah—as the concentration of His infinite beneficence
and the full manifestation of His boundless benevolence!
Heaven is . . .
the absence of all evil, natural and moral;
the possession of all possible good;
a glorified body united with a perfect soul,
and all this in the immediate presence of God!
There we shall see God!
We shall not only see Him—but love Him!
We shall not only love Him—but serve Him!
We shall not only serve Him—but enjoy Him!
We shall not only enjoy Him—but hold such
communion with Him as will assimilate
us to the all-perfect source of our felicity!
The objects of our contemplation,
our personal constitution,
our constant exercises of holy intellect, heart, and
volition—will be so many distinct sources of bliss!
perfect holiness, and
perfect love must of necessity
open the fountain of perfect joy!
No secondary concern will call off our unwearied
attention from the service of God; no sin or pain
will interrupt us in it; nor will death ever dismiss
us from it. The business and the blessedness of
that happy state are the same—our supreme
delight will be our constant employment.
Every sense will be an inlet,
every faculty a capacity, and
every energy a pulsation—of the purest bliss!
Heaven will be "life" . . .
life in perfection,
the life of the soul,
the life of God,
the life of eternity!
But to describe it, how vain and arrogant the
attempt, when even to conceive of it is impossible!
"In Your presence is fullness of joy! At Your right hand
there are pleasures for evermore!" Neither language
nor thought can go beyond this! Mind cannot conceive
more. God Himself can tell us no more, than that
heaven consists in His presence, and the enjoyment
of His favour—forever and ever!
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind
has imagined the things that God has prepared for
those who love Him!" (1 Corinthians 2:9)
The base cares and the petty enjoyments
of the present world
Sin is raging all around us!
Satan is busy in the work of destruction!
Men are dying!
Souls are every moment departing into eternity!
Hell is enlarging her mouth, and multitudes are
continually descending to torments which knows
no mitigation and no end!
How astounding is it sometimes to ourselves, that,
the base cares and the petty enjoyments of
the present world should have so much power
over us, as to retard us in our heavenward course,
and make us negligent and indolent, heedless and
Time is short!
Life is uncertain!
Death is at hand!
Immortality is about to swallow up our
existence in eternal life—or eternal death!
Heaven expanding above us!
Hell is yawning beneath us!
Eternity is opening before us!
It is by faith
It is by faith, as an operative principle of universal obedience
to the gospel of Christ, that the believer "purifies his heart" and
adorns his character with "the beauties of holiness," through
the power of the Divine Spirit.
It is by faith that he overcomes the world . . .
the dread of its frown,
the desire of its smile,
its evil maxims,
its corrupt principles.
It is by faith that he . . .
quenches the fiery darts of the wicked one,
is delivered from the wiles of the devil,
and bruises the serpent's head.
It is by faith, as a pilgrim and stranger upon earth, he
nourishes the desire for, and indulges the expectation of,
that country which God has promised to those who love Him.
It is by faith that he rises superior to the love of life, vanquishes
the fear of death, and while this monster puts his most horrid
form of mischief on—he smiles at his terrors, and, swelling into
rapture, exclaims, "O death, where is your sting!"
Essential to eminent usefulness
A revived church is the best hope of a lost world.
A revived ministry the best hope of a dormant church.
Under 'a great show of outward profession', there is a lamentable
deficiency of vital godliness in our churches. Much of the prevailing
benevolence and activity of the church, are a mere substitute for
spiritual religion—rather than the expression of vital godliness.
In our churches, it is easy to perceive . . .
how much more welcome is the 'humorous'—than the serious;
how much more anxious the audience is to be 'entertained'
—than to be edified;
how much greater homage is paid to the 'talent' of the preacher
—than to his piety!
In fact, our public meetings sometimes assume rather the
character of 'religious amusements'—than pious worship!
It ought never to be forgotten that a church meeting, if rightly
understood, is a company of people brought together to carry
out the design for which the Son of God expired upon the cross!
Surely the frame of our minds, and the tone of the sermons,
and the spirit and tendency of the whole worship service, ought
to be in strict harmony with such a purpose. Yet many of our
church meetings have rather lowered, than elevated the tone
of our piety, and thus enfeebled our real strength for carrying
on this great work.
Eminent piety is essential to eminent usefulness!
It is eminent piety alone, which will enable us to take a clear
and impressive view of the object to be sought, and supply
the energies necessary for obtaining it.
It is eminent piety alone, which will purify our motives, and produce
that spirit of profound humility, self-denial, dependence, and entire
consecration—which are necessary to qualify us for the work.
It is eminent piety alone, which will keep up the spirit of faith and
prayer, to which the divine promises are made. We must become . . .
He secretly wishes there was no Supreme Being
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God!"
His sinful disposition is at deadly enmity with the
perfection of the Divine character. The holiness of
God is the object of his abhorrence—as long as this
exists he cannot be at perfect peace. The rays of Divine
purity, as often as they fall upon his disordered mind,
must disturb and exasperate it. He secretly wishes
there was no Supreme Being—or that He was not holy.
If his powers were equal to his desires, he would . . .
wrest the sword of justice from the hand of Deity,
strip the character of Jehovah of the beauties of holiness,
dash in pieces the tables of His law,
overturn the throne of judgment,
and establish the reign of anarchy,
in order that he might sin in peace, and escape the
punishment of his wickedness!
The very existence of a holy God is, and ever must be, an
annoyance to him, in whose mind there are combined . . .
the love of sin,
a dread of its consequences, and
a wish to be unmolested in his course of iniquity.
Flesh-pleasing pulpit opiates!
They are a rebellious people, deceptive children, children who do
not obey the Lord's instruction. They say to the seers, "Do not
see," and to the prophets, "Do not prophesy the truth to us. Tell
us flattering things! Prophesy illusions! Get out of the way!
Leave the pathway. Rid us of the Holy One of Israel." Is. 30:9-11
It is a striking fact, that He who was love incarnate; who was
mercy's messenger to our lost world; who was named Jesus,
because He was to be the Saviour of His people; who was the
manifestation of God's love to man—delivered, during the
course of His personal ministry, more fearful descriptions of
Divine justice and the punishment of the wicked, than are to be
found in any other part of the Word of God! What can exceed
the solemn scene of the parable of the rich man in torments?
Hell and destruction are there set openly before us.
No man can fulfil his ministry, therefore, without frequently
alluding to the justice of God in the punishment of sin.
He must seek to alarm the fears of the unconverted by a
representation of the consequences that will follow a state
of final impenitence.
Such a subject frequently calls up all the enmity of the carnal
mind. To be told, not only that they are sinners—which all will
admit in general terms—but that their sins are such as to deserve
the wrath of God, such as to expose them to the torments of hell,
and such as will infallibly bring them to the bottomless pit—unless
they truly repent; to be told again and again that they are hastening
to perdition; to have the rod of Divine vengeance shaken over their
heads; to have all the dreadful curses of the violated law analyzed,
ascertained and announced; to have this done in their hearing, and
done frequently; to be made to sit and hear their future eternal
doom, and thus to be tormented before their time—is what they
cannot, and will not endure! Unable to bear any longer his pointed
addresses to the conscience, they will leave his ministry—for the
flesh-pleasing pulpit opiates of some flatterer of men's souls,
who is too cowardly to trouble the minds, or alarm the consciences
of those who love smooth, flattering and delusive preaching.
To be publicly denounced as deserving Divine wrath; to be told
that they are sinners to such a degree as to merit the eternal
punishment of a holy God; to be reminded that, instead of their
fancied good heart, pure nature, and blameless life—they are,
in the sight of God, depraved in every faculty and polluted in
every part; to be represented as unfit for communion with God
here, and for His presence hereafter—all this is so opposed to all
their notions, so mortifying to their vain pride, so degrading to
their dignity, that they cannot but dislike it. To such a debasement
they would not willingly descend; and hence their demand for the
teaching of deceit, and the smooth speech of falsehood. What
they want is to be flattered into a good opinion of themselves.
They hate the doctrine which disturbs their self-delight, and
revile the man who attempts to tell them the solemn reality
of how vile they are!
Do you remember little Elizabeth?
"He who wins souls is wise." Proverbs 11:30
My 'imagination' has sometimes presented me with this
picture of a faithful teacher's entrance to the state of her
everlasting rest. The agony of death finished, the triumph of
faith completed—and the conquering spirit hastening to her
crown! Upon the confines of the heavenly world, a divinely
lovely form awaits her arrival. Enrapt in astonishment at the
dazzling glory of this celestial inhabitant, she inquires, "Is
this Gabriel, chief of all the heavenly multitudes—and am
I honoured with his aid to guide me to the throne of God?"
With a smile of ineffable delight, such as gives fresh beauty
to an angel's countenance, the mystic form replies, "Do you
remember little Elizabeth, who was in yonder world—a
pupil in your Sunday school class? Do you recollect the child
who wept as you talked to her of sin—and directed her to the
cross of the dying Redeemer? God smiled with approbation
upon your effort, and by His own Spirit sealed the impression
upon her heart in characters never to be effaced. Providence
removed her from beneath your care, before the fruit of your
labour was visible. The gospel seed, however, had taken root,
and it was the privilege of another to water—what you had
sown. Nourished by the influence of heaven, the 'plant of
piety' flourished in her heart, and shed its fragrance upon
her character. Piety, after guarding her from the snares of
youth, cheered her amidst the accumulated trials of an
afflicted life, supported her amidst the agonies of death,
and elevated her to the mansions of immortality! And now
behold before you—the glorified spirit of that poor child,
who, under God, owes the eternal life on which she has
entered—to your faithful labours in the Sunday School; and
who is now sent by our Redeemer to introduce you to the
world of glory, as your first and least reward for guiding the
once thoughtless, ignorant, wicked Elizabeth to the
world of grace! Hail, happy spirit! Hail, favoured of the Lord!
Hail, deliverer of my soul! Hail, to the world of eternal glory!"
I can trace the scene no further! I cannot paint the raptures
produced in the honoured teacher's bosom by this unexpected
encounter. I cannot depict the mutual gratitude and love of
two such spirits meeting on the confines of heaven—much
less can I follow them to their everlasting mansion, and
disclose the bliss which they shall enjoy before the throne
of God! All this, and a thousand times more, is attendant
upon the salvation of one single soul! Teachers, what a
motive to diligence!
Amidst surrounding millions, the faithful teacher shall stand
to receive the public plaudits of his Judge and Saviour—"In as
much as you have done it unto the least of these My brethren
—you have done it unto Me! Well done, good and faithful
servant, enter into the joy of your Lord!"
This most hateful disposition!
Temptations vary with our circumstances, but there
is no scene from which they are entirely excluded.
There is no situation, however obscured by solitude,
or elevated by piety—from which all temptations can
be effectually shut out. The fact is, that as our chief
danger arises from our own evil heart. Until we can
be separated from our vile selves, we shall look in
vain for a spot sequestered from the attack of
One temptation to which Sunday School teachers
are exposed, is a spirit of PRIDE.
To be a teacher of others;
to be invested with authority;
to be regarded as an oracle;
to be listened to with deference;
is a situation which has its temptations, and which
some weak minds have found quite too powerful for
the growth of humility.
You mistake, if you suppose that merely being a teacher
of children, is too small to induce pride. Pride is a vice
that does not dwell exclusively in king's houses, wear
only elegant clothing, and feed sumptuously every day
upon lofty titles, fame or affluence. Pride . . .
is generated in the depravity of our nature,
accommodates itself to our circumstances,
and adapts itself to our taste!
Pride is found as often in the poor cottage, as in the elegant
mansion. Consciousness of superiority—whatever be the
object of comparison—is the basis of this most hateful
disposition of pride; and this may be supplied even from
the office of a Sunday School teacher!
Be watchful therefore, over your own heart—for the loss
of humility is a destruction in the Christian character,
which cannot be repaired by the most splendid talents,
or the most active zeal.
Every child is totally depraved
It is important for you, in all your exertions, to bear in mind
the total and universal depravity of the human race. By total
depravity, I do not mean that people are as bad as they can
be; for in general they lie under strong restraints—and most
do not sin with reckless abandonment. I do not mean that
they are all equally wicked; for some are less sinful than others.
I do not mean that they are destitute of everything useful, and
lovely in society; for their social affections are often strong and
praiseworthy. I do not mean that their actions are always
wrong; the contrary is manifestly true.
What I mean by total depravity, is an entire destitution in the
human heart by nature—of all spiritual affection, and holy
propensities. In this view, every child is totally depraved.
To change this state of the mind, and produce a holy bias; to
create a new disposition; to turn all the affections into a new
channel, and cause them to flow towards God and heaven, is
the work of the omnipotent and eternal Spirit!
Gently rubbed off by the hand of love
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness
sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you
when others revile you and persecute you and utter all
kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and
be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!" Matt. 5:10-12
Consider it your honour to be persecuted for righteousness sake.
The richest laurel that can adorn your brow is the scorn of fools!
The praise of the wicked is censure—and their satire is praise.
Every feeble mind can scoff, but only the wise man can bear it well.
The scorner is below a man; but the man who bears scorn
patiently is like an angel.
Instead of indulging in revenge, exercise forgiveness!
You have reason rather to be grateful to the scoffer, than to
be angry with him. His foul breath, though it seems to tarnish
your reputation for awhile, yet being gently rubbed off by
the hand of love, shall only prepare it for a brighter lustre.
And it shall be proved hereafter that the scorner was the
occasion of adding one more gem to the crown of glory
which shall adorn your brow with unfading honour!
Pity him, for he is indeed more an object of your pity than
of your contempt. Thus prove to the scoffer that the religion
which he ridicules, subdues the turbulent and angry passions,
teaches its possessor to forgive iniquities against himself, and
implants the godlike disposition of returning good for evil.
The sum total of worldly enjoyment in those two ciphers!
"I have seen everything that is done under the sun. Look at
it! All is vanity and vexation of spirit!" Ecclesiastes 1:14
The design of Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes seems to
be this—after detailing the good things of life to the widest
extent, setting them in the strongest light, and granting to
them every possible advantage which their most passionate
admirers contend for—to demonstrate, that as they are
attended with so many inseparable evils, are so short-lived
in their continuance, so unprofitable in the hour of death,
and so utterly useless in the eternal world beyond the
grave—that they are insufficient for the needs of the soul,
and inadequate to the eternal happiness of man.
No one was more capable of forming a correct opinion on
this subject than Solomon; since no man ever commanded
more resources of earthly delight than he did, or ever more
eagerly availed himself of the opportunities which he
possessed. And yet he grew disgusted and dissatisfied
with sensual pleasures, and at length gives us the sum
total of worldly enjoyment in those two ciphers
—vanity and vexation of spirit!
His testimony, therefore, is to be considered as that of
a man who had drunk the cup of earthly pleasures
to its dregs—and who found those dregs to be
wormwood, gall, and poison!
The worst enemy of mankind!
"Being examples to the flock." 1 Peter 5:3
"He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus,
which agrees with what I teach everywhere in
every church." 1 Corinthians 4:17
They expect to see our descriptions of piety copied into our
own conduct; and happy the man who having set forth true
godliness in his discourses, in all its beautiful proportions and
all its glowing colours, shall constrain the audience to exclaim,
"The painter has delineated his own likeness!" Happy the man
who, when the people shall ask, "What is true religion?" shall
be not only able to reply in reference to his pulpit, "Come and
hear," but in reference to his life, "Come and see!"
He alone is an honour to his pastoral office, who lives the
gospel which he preaches, and adorns by his conduct the
doctrines which he believes. But the unholy minister is
a disgrace to Christianity, and the worst enemy of
mankind! He is the most powerful abettor of infidelity,
and does more to wither the eternal interests of mankind
than the most malignant and pestiferous treatises that ever
issued from the press. If he perished alone in his sins, our
feelings might be those of unmingled pity. But when we
view him ruining the souls of others by his example, we
unite abhorrence with our compassion, just as we would
at the conduct of the shepherd who first drove his flock over
a precipice, and then dashed himself upon the rocks below!
An insatiable thirst after larger attainments
The man who thinks he has enough godliness—gives a
decisive proof that he has none at all. There is in true
piety, an insatiable thirst after larger attainments . . .
Therefore let every real Christian adopt the language of
Paul, and act up to the assertion, "Not that I have already
reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make
every effort to take hold of it because I also have been
taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not consider
myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do—
forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what
is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by
God's heavenly call in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12-14
He cannot forget
"Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life,
but the wrath of God remains on him." John 3:36
The Christian realizes that the whole human race is in
a state of sin and ruin; suffering all the consequences
of sin in this world—and exposed to the bitter pains of
eternal death in the world to come. He is convinced
that without a fitness for the pure and spiritual joys of
heaven, not one individual of all the millions who are
continually passing into eternity, can ascend to the
realms of glory and felicity. They appear, in his eyes,
to be actually perishing, and hence he is filled with
the tenderest concern, and affected with the deepest
sorrow. In his estimation . . .
the most agonizing diseases,
the most pinching poverty,
the greatest deprivation,
and the heaviest cares,
are as nothing, compared with those miseries
which sin has brought upon the deathless soul.
He cannot forget, that the soul, if not saved, will
become immortal in its suffering and wretchedness.
"Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life,
but the wrath of God remains on him." John 3:36
There are delusive signs of spiritual health and vigour.
Increased ability and disposition to 'talk of religion' in
the way of explaining and defending its doctrines, may
be mistaken for an increased influence of it in the heart.
Yet this may be nothing but the working of pride, or an
effusion of vanity.
To have a knowledge of the truths of Scripture, without
an experience of their influence upon the heart, is only
walking to the bottomless pit with the torch of truth
in our right hand!
Zeal for some peculiar notions or forms, may be thought
to be pure concern for God's glory. Yet all the while it
may only be the most rancorous party spirit.
Liberality in giving may be merely self-righteousness
Undeviating formality may be erroneously thought
to be ardent devotion.
Enthusiastic attachment to some novel opinion, may
be erroneously supposed to be spirituality of mind.
These are but a few specimens of the errors into which
people fall, in judging spiritual health and vigour. And
they tend to show the vast importance of our having
a scriptural knowledge of the correct tests of personal
As he snuffs the gale of popular applause!
"In all things approving ourselves as the ministers
of God." 2 Corinthians 6:4.
This verse implies that ministers are to labour for God—
surely not for the preacher's fame. SELF is an idol which
has been worshiped by far greater multitudes than any
other deity of either ancient or modern heathenism.
A minister is the last man in the world who should be
seen at the altar of this vile abomination—SELF. And yet
without great care he is likely to be the first one there,
to linger there the longest, to bow the lowest, and to
express his devotion by the costliest sacrifices!
Many become ministers merely to acquire popular
applause. 'Fame' is their motive and their aim. To
commend themselves, is the secret but powerful
spring of all they do. SELF is with them in the study
directing their reading, selecting their texts, arranging
their thoughts, forming their illustrations—and all with
a view to 'shine in public'. Thus prepared, they ascend
the pulpit with the same object which conducts the
actor to the stage—to secure the applause of approving
spectators. Every tone is modulated, every emphasis
laid, every attitude regulated—to please the audience,
rather than to profit their souls; to commend themselves,
and not Jesus Christ. The service ended, this bosom idol
returns with them to their own abode, and renders them
restless and uneasy to know how they have succeeded.
If they are admired, they receive their reward; if not,
the first prize is lost!
It is nothing in abatement of the sin, that all this
while evangelical sentiments are uttered. Orthodoxy
is the most direct road to popularity. Christ may be
the text—when SELF is the sermon! And dreadful
as it seems, it is to be feared that many have elevated
the cross only to suspend upon the 'sacred tree' their
own honours! and have employed all the glories of
redemption—merely to emblazon their own name!
The ministry is not intended to be a platform, where the
petty manufacturer of 'tinsel eloquence' and 'rhetorical
flowers' shall display to a gaping crowd his gaudy wares!
When carried to this height, this is the direst, deepest
tragedy that was ever performed by man, since it ends
in the actual and eternal death of the performer, who
forgets, as he snuffs the gale of popular applause,
that it bears the vapors of damnation!
"The Spirit took me to the north gate of the temple's
inner courtyard, where there was an idol that
disgusted the Lord and made Him furious!"
This heavenly magnet!
"But God proves His own love for us, in that while we
were still sinners, Christ died for us!" Romans 5:8
It magnifies the love of God, to consider the guilt,
sinfulness and unworthiness of its objects.
As an exhibition of unparalleled love, the cross melts
and captivates the heart! Think of the attraction of the
cross—when the love which it exhibits, is seen and felt
by a mind under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
What was it, my readers, which melted your hard and
frozen hearts into penitence, and gratitude and love?
What was it that drew you away from your sins? What
was it that brought you as willing captives to the feet
of Jesus? It was the love of God beseeching you upon
the summit of Calvary, and with open arms bidding
you welcome to the heart of Deity!
Everything else united to repel you. The terrors of justice
petrified you with horror, and despair was binding you
more closely than ever to your sins—until divine mercy
appeared and told you there was hope for the guilty—in
this heavenly magnet—the cross of Christ!
Gathering around the very cradle of his infant!
The godly parent reflects on the destiny of that being which
with rapture, he calls his child. He penetrates the disguise
which the 'helplessness and unconsciousness of infancy'
seem to have thrown around that child, and discovers the
grandeur and the dignity of an immortal being! He sees in
his countenance, that face which is to shine like the sun in
the skies with the glory of God—OR to be clouded with the
infamy and horror of the divine curse! He hears a voice
which is to be forever hymning the praises of its Creator
—OR to be forever venting blasphemies against its Judge!
In short, he contemplates a being born for eternity; one
who will be forever towering from height to height of glory
in heaven—OR sinking from gulf to gulf of despair in hell!
He reflects that his child is born with the latent seeds
of sinful corruption in his nature, which await only the
advancing 'spring of life' to vegetate, to strike root, to
spring up under the fatal warmth of temptation, and
bear the bitter fruits of rebellion against God.
He sees, in imagination, the world, the flesh and the
devil, gathering around the very cradle of his infant,
fixing their murderous eyes upon his immortal soul and
going out to prepare for his ruin!
He realizes that his child possesses an immortal soul,
which is in danger of being forever undone! To desire
anything for him less than the salvation of his child's
immortal soul, is cruelty of the blackest kind!
The hand of faith
When the hand of faith opens to lay hold of
Christ, it drops the sin it had grasped before.
You must part with your sin—or Christ.
The devil's sin
Pride is the parent sin. Pride is the original sin, both in
heaven and on earth. Pride is the devil's sin, and that
by which our first parents fell. We have all more of this
hateful disposition than we either know or suspect.
An ice house, instead of a hot house!
It appears quite clear then, that great numbers of
Christian professors are but very imperfectly acquainted
with the requirements of "pure and undefiled religion,"
and need to be led to re-study it in the pages of Holy
Scripture. We have lost sight of the 'divine Original', and
have confined our attention to the 'imperfect transcripts'
which we find on every hand in our churches. We have
by tacit consent reduced the standard, and fixed our eye
and our aim upon an inferior object. We are a law to each
other, instead of making the Word of God the law to us all.
We tolerate a worldly-minded, diluted, and weakened
piety in others—because we expect a similar toleration
for ourselves. We make excuses for them—because we
expect the like excuses for our own conduct in return.
We have abused, shamefully abused, the fact that
'there is no perfection upon earth,' and converted it
into a license for any measure and any number of
Our highest notion of religion requires only abstinence
from open immorality and the more polluting worldly
amusements; an attendance upon an evangelical
ministry; and an approval of orthodox doctrine. This,
this, is the religion of multitudes! There may be . . .
no habitual spirituality;
no life of faith;
no communion with God;
no struggling against sin, Satan, and the world;
no concern to grow in grace;
no supreme regard to eternity;
no studied and advancing fitness for the eternal world;
no tenderness of conscience;
no labourious discipline of our disposition;
no cultivation of love;
no making piety our chief business and highest pleasure;
no separation in spirit from the world.
In short, no impress upon the whole mind, and heart,
and conscience and life—of the character of the
Christian, as delineated upon the page of Scripture.
We all need to be taken out of 'the religious world',
as it is called, and collected again around the Bible
to study what it is to be a Christian! Let us endeavour
to forget what the bulk of professors are, and begin
afresh to learn what they ought to be.
It is to be feared that we are corrupting each other,
leading each other to be satisfied with a 'conventional
piety'. Many have been actually the worse for attending
church. They were more intensely concerned and earnest
before they came into church fellowship. Their piety
seemed to come into an ice house, instead of a hot
house! They grew better outside the church—than in the
church. At first they were surprised and shocked to see . . .
the Luke warmness,
of many older professors, and exclaimed, with grief
and disappointment, "Is this the church of Christ!"
But after a while, the fatal influence came over them,
and their piety sank to the temperature around them!
Constant multiplication of corrupted copies
Our idea of the nature of earnest individual piety must be
taken, not from the conventional customs of the age—but
from the Word of God. Once give up the Bible as the only
true standard of personal piety, and there is no rule left
but custom, which is ever varying with the opinions and
corruptions of the times.
Yet how prevalent is the disposition to conform ourselves
to the prevailing religion of the day and of the church to
which we belong, and to satisfy ourselves with the average
measure of piety around us! "I am as good as my fellow
members!" is the shield with which many a professor
wards off the allegation of his being below his duty.
This has been the fatal practical error of the church
through every age of its existence, by which . . .
its beauty has been disfigured,
its power weakened,
its usefulness impeded!
Professing Christians, instead of looking into the perfect standard
of Scripture, and seeing themselves reflected from that faithful
mirror, and adjusting their character and conduct by its infallible
revelations—placed before themselves the standard of the Christian
profession as it was found in the church of the day, and regulated
their behavior by what they saw in the prevailing character of their
Thus a constant multiplication of corrupted copies has
ever been going on! And religion, as seen in the conduct of its
professors, compared with that which is described in the pages
of its own inspired rule—have been quite different things!
Let us turn away from the religion we see in the church—to the
religion we read in the Bible! Let us not go to the imperfect and
blurred copy—but to the perfect and unspotted original! The
Bible's representation of the nature of true piety is intended
for us as our guide, and is obligatory upon us!
The inspired, unalterable, and infallible standard of Scripture is . . .
"Deny yourself, and take up your cross, and follow Me!"
is still the stern, unbending demand of Christ.
(J. A. James, speaking of the power of the press in 1848)
"Lest Satan should get an advantage of us:
for we are not ignorant of his devices." 2 Corinthians 2:11
The press has a great power for evil. Infidel and immoral
writers are pouring forth a deluge of scepticism and vice,
which are depositing a pernicious and pestiferous slime
over the minds of the people.
Let it be imagined, if imagined it can be, what must be
the state of multitudes in this country, when millions of
pestiferous publications are annually going out among
the masses of our population. Let the minds of all
Christian people dwell upon . . .
the insult offered to God,
the ruin brought upon souls,
the injury done to morals, and
the mischief perpetrated in the nation,
by such a state of things!
These ungodly publications originate from Satan's
workshop, and reflect the scenes of that dreadful
labouratory of mental poison! These authors, printers,
publishers, booksellers, vendors, by myriads, are all
busy and indefatigable—to do what?
To destroy the Bible,
to corrupt the mind,
to pull down the cross,
to dethrone God,
to subvert true religion,
to turn man into a speaking brute,
to overturn all morality,
to poison the springs of domestic happiness,
to dissolve the ties of social order,
to involve our country in ruin!
Satan, and all his emissaries upon earth,
are in earnest in ruining men's souls!
We have an evil to contend with—
so gigantic in its strength,
so diffused in its influence all around us,
so infectious and malignant in its effects!
The enemy is coming in like a flood!
Infidelity and immorality are invading us!
The alarm bell must be rung!
Every one of those little creatures
will be either in heaven—or in hell
"Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."
Fond mother, look at that babe hanging on your bosom,
and those other children sporting around your knee. And
you, the father of the family, watching them indulge in
joyous emotions and playful expressions—pause, ponder,
reflect—millions of ages from that moment of domestic
ecstasy, every one of those little creatures will be
either in heaven—or in hell; will be a seraph—or a
fiend; will be enduring inconceivable torment—or enjoying
ineffable felicity; will be be an associate with the devil
and his demons in everlasting fire—or a companion with
the innumerable company of angels in everlasting glory!
How tremendous is the responsibility of a parent! The
immortal destiny of your children should be your one
great, commanding, controlling, absorbing object!
But you are dead!
"I know thy works, that thou hast a name
that thou livest, and art dead." Revelation 3:1
One most impressive lessons which is taught here,
is that churches may have a reputation for being
in a flourishing condition—and yet be all the while
in a state of progressive decay!
How many churches are flattering themselves that they
are in a flourishing condition! The place of worship may be
commodious, elegant, and free from debt. The minister may
be popular, and approved by his flock. The congregation
may be large, respectable, and influential. The finances may
be good, and even prosperous. In short, there may be every
mark of external prosperity—until the church flatters itself
into the idea of its being in a high state of spiritual health.
But examine its internal state! Inquire into its condition as
viewed by God! Inspect the private conduct of its members
—and what a different aspect of things is seen then!
How prevalent is the spirit of the world in their social
fellowship! Games and parties, scarcely differing from
the fashionable circles of the worldly and the mirthful, are
kept up at much expense, and with every accompaniment
of frivolity and levity! Let a godly person of devotional taste,
spiritual affections, and tenderness of conscience, enter into
the parties of such a congregation—and what a destitution
of vital piety, and what prevailing worldliness would he find!
Let us look beneath the illusive covering of external
prosperity—and examine whether disease and decay
are lurking underneath!
There is often a strange contrast between the
'heavenliness' which a church professes—and the
'worldliness' of her conduct.
"Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods,
and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched,
and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." (Revelation 3:17)
Observe the holy virtues
"In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works:
in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity."
Never was there . . .
a more pure and sincere creature;
a more dutiful daughter;
a more harmless and inoffensive being,
than she was! And yet how did she confess
and bewail her sinfulness in the sight of God;
how entirely did she renounce all dependence
upon her own good doings, and how exclusively
did she rely upon the righteousness of Christ!
Observe the holy virtues which clustered
in her character . . .
how profound was her humility
how gentle her demeanor,
how striking her meekness,
how uncomplaining her submission,
how exemplary her patience,
how exquisite her benevolence,
how ardent her zeal,
how tender her attachments,
how intense her piety!
And, to crown all, how unmixed was all
this with any spiritual pride, or any sense
of superiority, or any sanctimonious airs.
How much is there for all of us to learn and
to copy! Be stimulated, encouraged and
guided by the example of Elizabeth Bales!
"But be thou an example of the believers, in word,
in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.."
(1 Timothy 4:12)
The damnation of one soul
"For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole
world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man
give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26)
One soul is of more value than the whole world!
The salvation of one soul is a greater blessing than
the temporal deliverance of an empire!
The damnation of one soul is a greater calamity
than the misery of a kingdom for a thousand ages!
"He will also drink the wine of God's wrath, which is
mixed full strength in the cup of His anger. He will
be tormented with fire and sulfur in the sight of the
holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb, and the
smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever."
Piety and morality
True religion consists of two parts—piety and morality.
By piety, I mean a right state of heart towards God, that
is, the existence of supreme love, arising out of faith in our
Lord Jesus Christ, manifested by delight in God's nature,
reverence for His character, obedience to His commands,
gratitude for His services, and all those acts of worship
which He has enjoined in His word. True piety is the real,
intelligent and cordial submission of the whole man, to
the will of God as revealed in Scripture.
By morality, I mean all those moral duties which we owe
to our fellow-creatures and to ourselves.
True religion is a right state of the soul, not only towards
God, but also towards man. It must follow us everywhere,
and influence us in all things, and at all times.
True religion gives an elevation and dignity to the whole
character, and exalts even the commonest duties of life
into acts of piety.
Who can wonder?
"You should be an example to the believers in speech,
in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12
Look into some families of professors; follow them
through the history of only one week, and see . . .
their worldly mindedness,
their unsanctified tempers,
their worldly reading,
their homage to talent,
their low esteem of holiness,
their negligence of family prayer,
their neglect of godly instruction to their children
—and who can wonder that young people, brought
up amidst such scenes, do not become pious—but go
off to the world or to sin?
Too often the children are like their parents,
and bring into the church no higher or better kind
of religion than what they have learned at home!
And thus a low tone of piety, a lukewarm Laodicean
spirit, is extended and perpetuated.
There must be a revival of piety in the parents!
It is vain to expect that a worldly-minded father,
whose spirituality, if he ever had any, has been
utterly evaporated by the exclusiveness of concern
about business and politics; or a frivolous, pleasure
loving mother, who thinks far more about adorning
the bodies of her children, than about saving their
souls—should be at all concerned about the pious
education of their children.
Recollect what a solemn thing it is to be a parent!
What a weighty responsibility attaches to those who
have the immortal souls of their children committed
to their care!
"You fathers, don't provoke your children to wrath,
but nurture them in the discipline and instruction
of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4)
Take the following maxims for your guide:
(J.A. James, "An Address to the Children" 1855)
1. True piety will be your best friend—for both worlds!
2. The eye of God is always upon you, and
He is present when no one else is near!
3. Godliness is the best of all things, for it makes
bitter things sweet—and sweet things sweeter!
4. What a boy would be as a man, let him seek to be
that while a boy. The boy is the father of the man!
5. Sin is deceitful as well as wicked, leading you to
commit great sins by first tempting you to little ones;
and leading you into habits of sin by asking for only
one sin at a time. "Only this once!" is Satan's way
of beguiling you into a course of sin. What ought
not to be done at all—should not be done once!
6. Avoid the first wrong step!
7. There are three things, which if lost, can never
be recovered—time, opportunity, and the soul!
8. A holy and useful life is more to be desired
than a long or a prosperous one!
9. To live wholly for ourselves is a poor, base,
10. "When all has been heard, the conclusion of the
matter is: fear God and keep His commands. For God
will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden
thing, whether good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
There is wondrous power in it!
Saving faith has a great influence on all one's
feelings, actions, and character. Though there is
no merit in faith—there is wondrous power in it!
Faith is the inlet both of happiness and holiness
to the soul. To believe that the eternal God . . .
is reconciled to us,
pardons all our sins,
receives us to His special favour,
gives us a title to eternal life,
must from necessity be a source of ineffable
delight, and the cause of an entire change in
all our tastes, pursuits, and character!
True faith in Christ is . . .
the foundation of the believer's happiness,
the means of his holiness,
the spring of all his actions,
the true basis of his character.
Many are saying, "Who can show us anything good?"
Look on us with favour, Lord. You have put more joy
in my heart than they have when their grain and
new wine abound. (Psalm 4:6-7)
There is certainly some pleasure in the gratification of the
appetites—in the enjoyment of health, friends, property,
and fame. Even sinful objects have their pleasures.
There could be no power in temptation, if sin yielded no
enjoyment. But viewing man as a rational, moral, and
immortal creature; as a sinner subject to the stings of a
reproachful conscience, and under the displeasure of the
God he has offended; as liable to all the vicissitudes of a
tearful existence, and ever exposed to the fear and stroke
of death—he needs something more for his happiness,
than can be found in the objects of this world. He has . . .
needs which they cannot supply;
cravings which they cannot satisfy;
woes which they cannot alleviate;
anxieties which they cannot dispel.
For each one that is even tolerably successful in gaining
felicity from visible objects, there are many who utterly fail.
Their schemes are frustrated; their hopes perish; their air
castles vanish as they journey on in life. And each
ends a course of worldly-mindedness, by adding another
to the millions of examples which have proved this present
world to be vanity.
In some cases, abundance and unobstructed enjoyment
produce revulsion. Tired of old pleasures, they look about
for new ones, and plead the oft-repeated inquiry, "Who will
show us anything good?" Novelty perhaps comes to the
relief of their discontented, restless, and dissatisfied minds;
but novelty itself soon grows old, and still something new
is wanted. There remains an aching void within, a craving,
hungry appetite for bliss—unsatisfied, unfed. They hunt for
enjoyment . . .
in endless parties of pleasure,
in every place of amusement,
in every scene of diversion;
in the dance, and in the game;
in the theatre, and in the concert;
amidst the scenes of nature, and
in the changes of foreign travel.
But happiness, like a shadow ever flitting before them,
and ever eluding their grasp, tantalizes them with its
form, without yielding them its substance; and excites
their hopes—only to disappoint them!
What are all the pleasures of time and sense, all the
objects of this visible world—but as the dropping of
pebbles into a deep chasm, which, instead of filling
it up, only tell them how deep it is—by awakening the
dismal echoes of emptiness and desolation.
Look at the worldling. Does he succeed in his quest for
happiness? Is he satisfied? Let him possess all he seeks,
all he wishes, all that earth can furnish; let rank be added
to wealth, and fame to both; let a constant round of
fashionable amusements, festive scenes, and elegant
parties, follow in endless succession, until his cup is full
to overflowing. What does it all amount to? "All that my
eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse myself
any pleasure. When I considered all that I had accomplished
and what I had laboured to achieve, I found everything to
be futile and a pursuit of the wind! There was nothing
to be gained under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 2)
Have not multitudes since Solomon's time, made the same
melancholy confession? Is it not a general admission, that
the pleasure of worldly objects arises more from hope and
anticipation—rather than possession? They are like beautiful
bubbles, which, as they float, reflect the colours of the rainbow
—but dissolve and vanish when grasped! Tell me, votaries of
earthly good, have you realized what you expected? Are not
the scenes of festivity and amusement resorted to, by many
with aching hearts? Does not the smiling countenance often
conceal a troubled spirit; and is not the laugh resorted to in
order to suppress the sigh?
Even if it were granted, that the possession of wealth, the
gratifications of taste, and the indulgence of appetite, could
give happiness in seasons of health and prosperity—they
must inevitably fail in the day of sickness and adversity. If
they were satisfying for a season—they are all fragile and
uncertain! All the enjoyments of this life are like gathered
flowers, which are no sooner plucked, than they begin to lose
their beauty and their fragrance while we look at them and
smell them; and which, however mirthful and beautiful they
appeared while they were growing—begin to wither as soon
as they are in our hands!
John Angell James (1785-1859) was a Congregationalist minister from Birmingham.