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SERMON XXI.

PURE RELIGION.

JAMES, i. 27.

"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the

world."

NOTHING can be more useful than summary views of our duty, if they be well drawn, and rightly understood. It is a great advantage to have our business laid before us altogether; to see at one comprehensive glance, as it were, what we are to do, and what we are not to do. It would be a great ease and satisfaction to both, if it were possible, for a master to give his servant directions for his conduct in a single sentence, which he, the servant had only to apply and draw out into practice, as occasions offered themselves, in order to discharge every thing which was required or expected from him. This, which is not practicable in civil life, is in a good degree so in a religious life; because a religious life proceeds more upon principle, leaving the exercise and manifestation of that principle more to the judg ment of the individual, than it can be left where, from

the nature of the case, one man is to act precisely according to another man's direction.

But then, as I have said, it is essentially necessary, that these summaries be well drawn up, and rightly understood; because if they profess to state the whole of men's duties, yet, in fact, state it partially and imperfectly, all, who read them, are misled, and dangerously misled. In religion, as in other things, we are too apt of ourselves to substitute a part for the whole. Substituting a part for the whole is the grand tendency of human corruption in matters both of morality and religion: which propensity, therefore, will be encouraged, when that, which professes to exhibit the whole of religion, does not, in truth, exhibit the whole. What is there omitted, we shall omit, glad of the occasion and excuse:, what is not set down as our duty, we shall not think ourselves obliged to perform, not caring to increase the weight of our own burthen. This is the case whenever we use summaries of religion, which, in truth, are imperfect or ill drawn. But there is another case more common, and productive of the same effect, and that is, when we misconstrue these summary accounts of our duty; principally when we conceive of them as intending to express more than they were really intended to express: for then it comes to pass, that, although they be right and perfect, as to what they were intended for, yet they are wrong and imperfect, as to what we construe and conceive them for. This observation is particularly applicable to the text. St. James is here describing religion, not

in its principle, but in its effects; and these effects are truly and justly and fully displayed. They are by the apostle made to consist in two large articles, in succouring the distress of others, and maintaining our own innocency: and these two articles do comprehend the whole of the effects of true religion: which were exactly what the apostle meant to describe. Had St. James intended to have set forth the motives and principles of religion, as they ought to subsist in the heart of a christian, I doubt not but he would have mentioned love to God, and faith in Jesus Christ; for from these must spring every thing good and acceptable in our actions. In natural objects it is one thing to describe the root of a plant, and another its fruits and flowers; and if we think a writer is describing the roots and fibres, when, in truth, he is describing the fruit or flowers, we shall mistake his meaning, and our mistake must produce great confusion. So in spiritual affairs, it is one thing to set before us the principle of religion, and another the effects of it. These are not to be confounded. And if we apply a description to one, which was intended for the other, we deal unfairly by the writer of the description, and erroneously by ourselves. Therefore, first, let no one suppose the love of God, the thinking of him, the being grateful to him, the fearing to disobey him, noț to be necessary parts of true religion, because they are not mentioned in St. James's account of true religion. The answer is, that these compose the principles of true religion; St. James's account relates to the effects. In like manner concerning faith in Jesus Christ. St.

James has recorded his opinion upon that subject. His doctrine is, that the tree, which bears no fruit, cannot be sound at the root, that the faith, which is unproductive, is not the right faith: but then this is allowing, (and not denying,) that a right faith is the source and spring of true virtue: and had our apostle been asked to state the principle of religion, I am persuaded he would have referred us to a true faith. But that was not the inquiry: on the contrary, having marked strongly the futility of a faith, which produced no good effects upon life and action, he proceeds in the text to tell us what the effects are, which it ought to produce; and these he disposes into two comprehensive classes, (but still meaning to describe the effects of religion and not its root or principle,) positive virtue and personal innocence.

Now, I say, that, for the purpose for which it was intended, the account given by St. James is full and complete: and it carries with it this peculiar advantage, that it very specially guards against an error, natural, I believe, and common in all ages of the world; which is, the making beneficence an apology for licentiousness; the thinking that doing good occasionally may excuse us from strictness in regulating our passions and desires. The text expressly cuts up this excuse, because it expressly asserts both things to be necessary to compose true religion. Where two things are necessary, one cannot excuse the want of the other. Now, what does the text teach? it teaches us what pure and undefiled religion is in its effects

and in its practice: and what is it? "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world:" not simply to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction: that is not all: that is not sufficient: but likewise "to keep himself unspotted from the world."

To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, is describing a class, or species, or kind of virtue by singling out one eminent example of it. I consider the Apostle as meaning to represent the value, and to enforce the obligation of active charity, of positive beneficence, and that he has done it by mentioning a particular instance. A stronger or properer instance could not have been selected: but still it is to be regarded as an instance, not as exclusive of other and similar instances, but as a specimen of these exertions. The case before us, as an instance, is heightened by every circumstance, which could give to it weight and priority. The apostle exhibits the most forlorn and destitute of the human species, suffering under the severest of human losses: helpless children deprived of a parent: a wife bereaved of her husband, both sunk in affliction, under the sharpest anguish of their misfortunes. To visit, by which is meant to console, to comfort, to succour, to relieve, to assist such as these, is undoubtedly a high exercise of religion and benevolence, and well selected: but still it is to be regarded as an example, and the whole class of beneficent virtues is intended to be included. This is not only a just and fair, but a necessary construction: because, although the exercise of beneficence be a

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