Jam_5:7-8. Be patient, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.
CHRISTIANITY, even in the apostolic age, was professed by multitudes who neither understood its doctrines nor obeyed its precepts. The great and fundamental doctrine of justification by faith was denied by some, and abused by others; who took occasion from it to “turn the grace of God into licentiousness,” and to “continue in sin that grace might abound.” To this latter class more especially St. James directed his epistle. He did indeed write to the unbelieving Jews also: for his epistle is addressed “To the twelve tribes who were scattered abroad:” and, as they were in no state to receive such affectionate salutations as are observable in the epistles which were addressed to Christians only, he contented himself with merely sending to them “greeting [Note: Jam_1:1.].” There were indeed many truly pious persons who were suffering for the truth’s sake; and these he sought to comfort and encourage. The foregoing part of this chapter seems addressed to the former; the text and following verses to the latter. We cannot conceive that the oppressive and murderous conduct which he lays to the charge of some, could admit of their being numbered with the Church of God. But their cruelties rendered the path of the true Christians who were among them far more difficult: and therefore, after warning those who were so grossly violating every principle of common morality, he encourages the suffering Christians to persevere in a patient discharge of their duty, and in an assured expectation of recompence at the coming of their Lord.
We shall consider the injunction which he gives them in a two-fold view;
In reference to the terms by which it is expressed—
These are strong and energetic. Twice he says, “Be patient;” that is, bear with all long-suffering the trials that are come upon you: and then he adds, “Stablish your hearts;” let them be so firmly fixed, that nothing may ever shake them.
Now from these expressions we gain a very considerable insight into Christianity: we see, that,
It exposes us to heavy trials—
[No man could profess Christianity at its first establishment, but at the peril of his life: thousands and myriads being called to seal the truth with their blood. If the same persecutions be not experienced at this day, let us not imagine that they have therefore ceased: for it is as true at this day as it was in the apostolic age, that “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” And every man now, as well as then, must be prepared to lay down his life for Christ, if he will be acknowledged as “a disciple indeed.” Nor let it be thought that the persecutions of the present day are so very light. It is no easy thing for flesh and blood to withstand the hatred, and contempt, and ridicule to which he will be assuredly exposed, if he set himself in earnest to serve the Lord. The fear of these consequences is abundantly sufficient to deter multitudes from embracing the Gospel, and to turn back multitudes after they have embraced it. True it is, that all are not exposed to these things in an equal degree: but every follower of Christ must have his cross to bear, and be conformed to his Divine Master in sufferings, before he can be made like him in glory [Note: Rom_8:17.].]
It calls for great exertions—
[Religion is the same that it ever was, and calls for the same efforts on the part of all who embrace it. A race is not won at this day without exertion; nor does a wrestler overcome a strong antagonist without effort: nor a man engaged in warfare obtain a triumph without labour. Our spiritual enemies are as strong as ever: sin is not subdued and mortified by listless endeavours; nor is Satan defeated without much watchfulness and prayer. The whole man must be engaged. We must summon to the conflict all our faculties and powers; yea, such are the efforts required, that, if we be not strengthened by that same almighty power which raised Jesus Christ from the dead, we can never prevail [Note: Eph_1:19-20.].]
It requires incessant efforts even to the end—
[There is to be no period when we are to give way either to impatience or sloth. However long our trials may continue, we are “in patience to possess our souls:” and however difficult the path of duty may be, we are “never to be weary in well-doing.” God should be able to say of us, as he does of the Church of Ephesus, “Thou hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and not fainted [Note: Rev_2:3.].” This in particular is intimated in our text. It is supposed that the trials are long, and heavy, and calculated to turn us from the faith: and hence it is necessary that we “be long-suffering,” and that our “souls be established with grace.” It is in this way only that we can finally prevail: for to those only who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, will eternal life be adjudged [Note: Rom_2:7.].]
To enter fully into the Apostle’s exhortation, we must consider it,
In reference to the comparison with which it is illustrated—
This Apostle seems particularly to affect easy and familiar illustrations. The whole epistle abounds with them. He compares certain hearers of the word to persons beholding themselves in a glass, and then forgetting what manner of persons they were. Those who have a dead and unproductive faith he compares to persons who speak kind words to an indigent brother or sister without relieving their necessities. Those who govern not their tongue he reproves, by contrasting their conduct with horses that obey the bit; with ships that are turned by a helm; with beasts, birds, and even fishes of the sea, all of which have been tamed by men: and by warning them, that as no fountain can send forth sweet water and bitter, and no tree bear both olives and figs, so they can be no true Christians, whilst such unworthy and inconsistent speeches issue from their mouths. Here in our text he brings to our view the husbandman, whose continued labours and patient expectations form a fit model for the Christian. Him we are called to resemble,
In a steady prosecution of the appointed means—
[Many are the discouragements which the husbandman meets with in the cultivation of his ground. Sometimes the weather is untoward: sometimes blights, or insects, or mildew, injure his crops: sometimes drought almost destroys all his hopes: but still he goes on from year to year, ploughing his ground, clearing it from weeds, manuring it, casting in his seed, and harrowing it; and this he does, not knowing for certain that a single grain which he casts into the furrows shall rise again. But he expects nothing without the use of means; and therefore he does his part; and that too as regularly and diligently as if every thing depended on himself. He well knows that God alone can give rain, or cause the sun to shine, or give power to the seed which he has sown to spring up: but still he labours, that he may not fail through any neglect of his own.
Now in this he is a pattern for all Christians. They have their work to do. True, they cannot ensure success: but they know that it is in the use, and not in the neglect, of the appointed means, that God will bless them: and therefore they are labouring as assiduously as if every thing depended on themselves. Behold them in secret: they read the Scriptures with diligence: they pray over them with earnestness: they set themselves to mortify their evil propensities, and to fulfil their duties both to God and man. Observe them at all times, and you will see, that they are in earnest for heaven. When you go into the fields, and see the husbandman ploughing, manuring, sowing, harrowing, weeding his ground, you will never hesitate a moment to say, that he has the harvest in view. So, see the Christian from day to day, and you will without fail remark, that he has heaven in view, and that he is preparing for a future harvest.]
In a patient expectation of the desired end—
[Many months intervene between the seed-time and the harvest: but the husbandman waits with patience. It is some time before the seed springs up from under the clods: but he waits for it, and for “the former rain,” which alone can call forth its vegetative powers. Its growth is afterwards impeded by drought: but still he waits for the latter rain, without which the corn can never come to maturity. There may be many alternations of hope and fear: but he commits the matter to the Lord, and waits the destined time, in expectation that God will give him to see, in an abundant increase, the fruit of his labours. So the Christian must wait upon his God: many things he will meet with to try his faith and patience: but he must commit them all to the Lord, not doubting but that God will give him “strength according to his day,” and cause “all events to work together for his good.” As the husbandman knows that a few months will bring the appointed harvest; so the Christian knows, that his Lord is quickly coming, and “will not tarry beyond the appointed time:” and for that time he must wait; fully assured, that the harvest which he shall then reap will amply repay all his cares and all his toil.
This then, Christian, is the pattern you are to follow: you must be “steadfast, and immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; and then you are assured, that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.”]
Learn then from hence,
How to estimate your true character—
[The Apostle addresses those whom he is exhorting by the endearing name of “brethren:” for they are all children of one common Father, even of God himself. Now, whereinsoever they differ from each other, they all agree in this: the true child of God is engaged in a work, which demands, and in which he puts forth, all his energies. In it he is occupied throughout the year. He consults not the clouds, to know whether he shall plough and sow his ground: he knows that the work must be done, and he engages in it in a humble dependence on his God: and he looks to the future judgment, as the period when all his labours shall be compensated, and his hopes fulfilled. Now, I would ask, would every one that sees you, know you by these marks? The husbandman, without intending to attract notice, discovers to all, his views, his occupations, his desires. Are yours also in like manner apparent to all who behold your life and conversation! Doubtless your daily calls of duty are not so visible to every observer: but upon the whole, the great scope and end of your life is not a whit less visible to all who are round about you. Here then you may easily ascertain your own character. If eternity be not ever in your view; if all you do have not a reference to it; if you be not willing both to do and suffer every thing that may conduce to your future welfare; and if you be not “looking for, and hasting unto, the coming of the day of Christ,” as to the period for the completion of all your wishes, you do not belong to this holy family: you may call yourselves Christians; but you are not Christians indeed. We read of those who “said that they were Jews, and did lie:” so you say that you are Christians; but your whole conduct gives the lie to your profession. If you are Christians in deed and in truth, “your works of faith, and labours of love, and patience of hope, are known to all;” and they vouch for you, that “you are the elect,” the children of the living God [Note: 1Th_1:3-4.].]
How to anticipate your certain end—
[All imagine that they are going to heaven; and will not be persuaded to the contrary. But, if you have ears to hear, and hearts to understand, you shall know this day whether you are going to heaven or to hell. Ask yonder husbandman: ‘Have you been ploughing and sowing your ground this year?’ ‘No; I have had other things to do.’—‘And do you expect a harvest?’ ‘Yes, I shall have as good a crop as any of my neighbours.’—‘But do you think that you shall obtain the end without the means?’ ‘Tell me not about means and end: others give themselves a great deal of unnecessary trouble: and I shall have as good a crop as my neighbours: nor shall any one persuade me to the contrary.’
Now what, suppose you, will be the issue? Will the event accord with this man’s expectations? Will he not, when the time of harvest comes, find that his confidence has been delusive; and that his barns are empty, whilst the granaries of others are filled with store? Then I agree that you shall be your own judges. If you can form a doubt about the issue of that man’s confidence, especially when it is repeated for many years together, then I will be content that you shall buoy up yourselves with the hopes of heaven, though you never use any means to obtain it. But if you have no doubt about that man’s folly, then see in it a just picture of your own.
Behold then, I declare to all of you, that the means must be used in order to the end. You must repent, “ploughing up your fallow ground,” and “sowing in tears” of deep contrition. You must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the only Saviour of sinners; and must look to him for “the former and the latter rain,” whereby alone the seed of the word can live and grow in your souls. Lastly, you must make it the one labour of your life to prepare for his second coming, that you may give up your account to him with joy and not with grief. If you thus “go on your way weeping, bearing precious seed, you shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing your sheaves with you [Note: Psa_126:5-6.]:” but if you act not thus, know that you shall reap according to what you sow. “He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; whilst he who soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting [Note: Gal_6:7-8.].”]