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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.
T fhould feem as if Religion was here made to confift only of two parts; CHARITY or BENEVOLENCE refpecting others, and PuRITY OF SELF-GOVERNMENT refpecting ourfelves. The firft of thefe, Benevolence, is characterized to us by fingling out one of the strongest of our focial affections, compaffion towards the diftreffed, which, in the beautiful language of Scripture, is called vifiting, that is, relieving "the fatherless and widows in their "affliction;" a mode of expreffion very comK 3
mon to the facred writers; especially when they are defcribing the virtue of Charity, which is almoft conftantly represented by one or other of its moft ftriking features.
The other part of Religion, here specified Self-Government, is very distinctly marked out by the phrafe of "keeping himself unspotted
from the world;" which plainly means a total abftinence from the immoral practices and unlawful pleasures of the world; a strict command over our irregular appetites and paffions; an abhorrence of every thing that tends to debase our nature, and contaminate our fouls.
But it must immediately occur to every one, that, befides the two branches of Religion here enumerated, there is a third, of which ¡St. James takes no notice. And it may appear, at first fight, a little extraordinary, that an Apostle of Chrift, when he seems to be giving a formal definition of his Mafter's Religion, fhould omit what has ever been efteemed a moft effential part of it, Piety, or the love of God. But, although this duty is not expressly mentioned, yet it is evidently implied, in the text, which recommends fuch Religion only as terminates ultimately in God, fuch as is
pure and undefiled" before God and the Fa"ther." And the reason why St. James did not more particularly infift on this point was, because he had no occafion to prefs it on the perfons to whom he was writing. That acts of piety were neceffary, they readily owned; but they were too apt, it seems, to think, that scarce any thing elfe was neceffary; and that, provided they were punctual and exact in their devotional exercises, they might be allowed to relax a little in the government of their paffions, and the duties owing to their neighbour. St. James, therefore, pointing the whole force of his admonition against this dangerous error, and paffing over those religious obfervances, on which they were already difpofed to pique themselves too much, reminds them in the text, that although God was indeed to be worshipped, yet it was to be not only with their lips, but in their lives; that Religion, that even Devotion itself, did not: confift merely in calling upon God's name, but in obeying his laws; in acts of kindness to their fellow-creatures, and an unspotted fanctity of manners.
Let no one, therefore, infer, what fome have been too willing to infer, from the paffage before us, that an inoffenfive, beneficent, and tolerably good moral life, is the whole of Religion; and that the love of God conftitutes no part of our duty. It is, on the contrary, our principal and most important duty, or, as the Scriptures exprefs it, the first and great commandment. And as, without Piety, there can be no Religion, fo without Belief in the Son of God, there can be evidently no Christianity. Unless our virtue is built on this foundation, unless it be grounded on true evangelical principles, it may be very good Pagan morality, but it is not Chriftian godliness. And whatever other rewards it may be entitled to, it can have no claim to that eternal one, which is not a matter of right, ftrictly due to our services, but the free gift of God to thofe only that embrace the offers of falvation made to them in the Gofpel, on the conditions of a right faith, as well as of a right conduct. Yet it has become of late but too
common, not only to treat the peculiar doctrines of Christianity with contempt, and to fet up practical morality as the fum and sub