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to promise to one of his subjects, upon compliance with certain terms, and the performance of certain duties, a reward, in magnitude and value, out of all competition beyond the merit of the compliance, the desert of the performance; to what shall such a subject ascribe the happiness held out to him? He is an ungrateful man if he attribute it to any cause whatever, but to the bounty and goodness of his prince in making him the offer ; or if he suffer any consideration, be it what it will, to interfere with, or diminish, his sense of that bounty and goodness. Still it is true, that he will not obtain what is offered, unless he comply with the terms. So far his compliance is a condition of his happiness. But the grand thing is the offer being made at all. That is the ground and origin of the whole. That is the cause ; and is ascribable to favour, grace, and goodness, on the part of the prince, and to nothing else. It would therefore be the last degree of ingratitude in such a subject, to forget his prince, while he thought of himself; to forget the cause, whilst he thought of the condition ; to regard every thing promised as merited, The generosity, the kindness, the voluntariness, the bounty of the original offer, come by this means to be neglected in his mind entirely. This, in my opinion describes our situation with respect to God. The love, goodness, and grace of God, in making us a tender of salvation, and the effects of the death of Christ, do not diminish the necessity or the obligation of the condition of the tender, which is, sincere endeavours after holiness; nor are, in anywise, inconsistent with such obligation.
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 judgement 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 duty, 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 illdrawn. 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 of two large articles ; in succouring the distress of others,