Jam_2:5. Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
IT is a duty incumbent on all ministers to discountenance any errors, whether of faith or practice, that may have crept into the Church. But when compelled by necessity to reprove what is amiss, they should shew by most unquestionable evidence, that there is just occasion for censure; and, by their tender manner of reproving, they should evince that they are actuated only by a sense of duty to God, and of love to man. St. James had seen a very shameful partiality prevailing in the Church in favour of the rich, while the poor were too generally neglected and despised. Against this great evil he bears his testimony, not merely with fidelity, but with unoffending tenderness, and unanswerable wisdom. His argument is to this effect; Hath not God chosen the poor, and selected them as monuments of his love, and as heirs of his glory? With what consistency then can you pour contempt upon them, as though they were unworthy of the smallest attention?
In discoursing upon his words we shall shew,
What inheritance God has chosen for the poor—
While man is unmindful of the poor, God has exalted them above others in respect of,
Their present portion—
[Faith is that precious gift which he has bestowed on them: and though few among the rich regret their want of it, yet is it a most inestimable blessing. The smallest portion of it is sufficient (provided it be a true and living faith) to prove their election of God [Note: Act_13:48.]; to secure to them the remission of sins [Note: Act_10:43.]; to bring peace into their conscience [Note: Rom_5:1.]; and to sanctify their hearts [Note: Act_15:9.]. The smallest portion of it is a peculiar gift bestowed on very few [Note: Isa_53:1. Joh_12:38. Rom_10:16.]; and one which neither men nor devils ever shall deprive them of [Note: Joh_4:14.]. Yet God has not chosen them to enjoy a small portion of it, but “to be rich in it:” he would have them “strong in faith, not staggering at any promise [Note: Rom_4:20.],” but “living,” both for temporal and spiritual things, altogether “by faith in the Son of God [Note: Gal_2:20.],” fully assured, that all things needful shall be supplied for their bodies [Note: Mat_6:33.], and that all things shall work together for the good of their souls [Note: Rom_8:28.].
The Levites were not suffered to have any inheritance among their brethren; but the Lord their God was their inheritance [Note: Num_18:20. Jos_13:33.]. And this, so far from being a grievance to them, was deemed their highest privilege. Thus privileged are the poor: they have little of this world; but, if they have God for their portion, they are the richest people upon earth.]
Their eternal inheritance—
[God has provided “a kingdom for them that love him:” a kingdom worthy to be possessed by those, whom God delights to honour. And it is his will that “the poor of this world” should not only aspire after it, but consider themselves as “heirs” to it. While they are destitute, perhaps, of food to eat, or of raiment to put on, he would have them like minors that are heirs to a large estate, who delight to survey the grounds which they are speedily to possess: he would have them survey all the glory of heaven, and say, “That is my patrimony: the instant I attain the age appointed by my Father’s will, I shall have a host of angels sent to bear me on their wings to the mansions prepared for me.”]
To vindicate the ways of God, we shall proceed to shew,
Why he has chosen this portion for them in particular—
That God has chosen this portion for the poor is beyond a doubt—
[If the Apostle had only affirmed it, no room would have been left for doubt; but he ventured to appeal even to the rich themselves respecting it, and that too at the very time that he was reproving them for their contempt of the poor; yea, he even grounded the reproof itself upon that very appeal. He could not possibly express more strongly his own persuasion of the truth in question. But it is capable of abundant proof both from Scripture and experience. Who were the people that received the testimony of our blessed Lord? “Did any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believe on him [Note: Joh_7:48.]?” Who constituted the great majority of the Church in the apostolic age? St. Paul informs us; “Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish, the weak, the base, the despised, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are [Note: 1Co_1:26-28.].” And we might appeal to you at this day; Who are they that crowd the churches where the Gospel is preached, notwithstanding they meet with the same contemptuous treatment that the Apostle so justly complains of [Note: How many will open their pews to a rich or well-dressed person, that would suffer a poor man, however pious or infirm, to “stand” during the whole service, without ever offering him a seat, when they had room enough to accommodate many! Yea, how many rich persons will absent themselves from the ordinances, and lock up their pews, to prevent their being occupied! What would St. James have said to these things? See ver. 2–4, 9.]? Who are they that “receive the word with meekness, and have it engrafted” in their hearts, and exemplified in their lives? are these the rich? A few there may be; but it is “to the poor chiefly that the Gospel is preached [Note: Mat_11:5.],” and it is “the common people that hear it gladly [Note: Mar_12:37.].”]
Nor are we at a loss to assign reasons for this procedure—
[God has thus distinguished the poor, in order to stain the pride of man. Men, if they are exalted above their fellow-creatures in wealth or dignity, are ready to conceive that they are as great in the eyes of God as they are in their own eyes. They think themselves (I had almost said) above God himself: they are too wise to learn of God, and too great to be controlled by him. God therefore pours contempt on them, as they do on him [Note: 1Sa_2:30.]. He will let them see that their possessions or endowments, however great, are not a child’s portion, but only as crumbs cast to the dogs. He will render the poor as superior to them in spiritual things, as they are to the poor in temporal things: he will “lift up the beggar from the dunghill, and set him among the princes [Note: 1Sa_2:8.],” while he casts down the mighty from their thrones to the lowest abyss of shame and misery.
Moreover, in thus distinguishing the poor, God further designs to magnify the riches of his own grace. If God bestowed his favours principally on the rich, we should be ready to think that they had some peculiar claim upon him, and that his attention to them was no more than their due: or perhaps we should rather conclude, that their superior talents enabled them to unravel the divine mysteries, and to attain heaven by their own unassisted efforts. But when we see the Gospel “hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed to babes [Note: Mat_11:25.],” we are constrained to acknowledge the marvellous condescension, and uncontrollable sovereignty, of our God.]
Those who despise the portion that God has chosen—
[It is to be lamented that many even among the poor themselves are regardless of the “true riches [Note: 2Co_6:10.].” But what madness is it to reject that which would assuage all their present sorrows; and to render themselves infinitely more destitute in the next world than they are in this! O that they would accept the portion that God offers them!
The rich too almost universally despise the Gospel. But how painful will their reflections be in that day when the parable of Dives and Lazarus shall be realized in them! O consider, ye are not excluded; God is willing to bestow the same inestimable blessings upon you. Seek then to be rich in faith, and heaven itself shall be your everlasting inheritance.]
Those who desire to possess that portion—
[Blessed be God, there are some among the poor that know and enjoy their privileges. But whence is it that they discern what is hid from others? Had they any thing in themselves more than others; “any thing which they have not received?” No [Note: 1Co_4:7.]: they would never have chosen God, if God had not first “chosen” them [Note: Joh_15:16.]. Let them then adore that grace which has been thus magnified towards them.
Do any of the rich inquire, What shall we do to get a share in this inheritance? Shall we cast away all our riches, and reduce ourselves to poverty? No; there is an infinitely better and safer way; “Love God.” You may give away all your goods, and be nothing profited [Note: 1Co_13:3. Thrice is this expressly repeated in that fore-cited passage, 1Co_1:26-28.]: but if you “love God, the kingdom is absolutely promised to you.” The poor cannot be saved unless they be rich in faith: and you, if you exercise faith and love towards our adorable Saviour, shall also be saved with an everlasting salvation.]