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The Epistle Of James Practically Explained by Augustus Neander

§ 1. Diversities in modes of religious development, and in the

consequent forms of faith.

IT is the remark of one of the early Church Fathers, that what Paul says of himself, -- viz. that he became all things to all men, that he might win all to the Gospel, -- is true in a still higher degree of Him who was in this the Apostle's pattern, of Christ himself. We see it in that manifold variety of manner, adapted to all the varieties in human character and relations, by which, both in his personal labors on earth, and in his spiritual revelations among all nations since his ascension, he has drawn men to a saving knowledge of himself. His manner, while laboring upon earth, is indeed an image of that invisible divine agency extending through all times, in which he evermore reveals himself as the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. This diversity Christ himself indicates, in those parables in which he describes how the kingdom. of God is found; showing at the same time the one thing, in which all must finally agree who would become partakers of the kingdom of God, and the varieties of way and manner in which they are conducted thither. Only those attain. to the kingdom of God who enter it by violence. Only those find the treasure hidden in the field, who are ready to sell all they have that they may become possessors of that field. Only those secure possession of that precious pearl, outshining in beauty and splendor all beside, who prize it above all else, and shun no pains, no cost to win it for themselves, -- esteeming all other good as nothing, for the sake of that one highest good, the kingdom of God.

But in order to bring men to this decision of purpose, without which none can enter the kingdom of God, they must be acted on in various ways suited to their various characters and circumstances. Some are like the merchant, who having spared no pains or cost to find precious pearls, at length, through this earnest and laborious search, secures possession of that richest of all jewels. Such are those, who, impelled by longing after some satisfying good, already have sought it long in vain. They have found many things which satisfy in part; but in the end have learned, that of all these not one can give the spirit full and lasting satisfaction. Thus they are ever beginning the search anew, till at length, through this ever-renewed effort they attain to that one highest good, and find in it the full satisfaction which their souls require. Others again, seeking no treasure, come unawares upon the field containing it, and find it as it were by accident. Such are those, in whom the longing after the highest good, the kingdom of God, has not yet been awakened; who are surprised by an unsought gift, which imparts to their souls a satisfaction never imagined and never sought. The one class, by a gradual progressive development out of a life, in which preparative grace had from the first given tokens of its active presence, quickening and unfolding by various means the life-germ in the higher nature, -- had thus been finally drawn into full fellowship with the Lord. The other, willing slaves of passions that long withstood the divine call, had been drawn at length, as by a power that constrained their resisting will, to him whose love seeks the deliverance of all.

Since now the mode of development is so different in the two cases, so also will be the form which faith assumes in each. To the one, the new state to which he has attained will seem but as the aim and completion of that earlier one, which by many progressive steps conducted to and ended in it; and that earlier form of life, out of which he passed into this new state, will always remain to him a dear and familiar one. To the view of the other, the new state will present itself as in direct opposition to the old. These two forms of conception are both founded in truth; each will, in its peculiar manner, contribute to the glory and furtherance of Christianity. The first is especially adapted to show, how all that preceded this new state was designed to prepare the way for it; and here the change will manifest itself in a less striking form. The second is certainly the more thorough and profound, -- presenting a more complete development of the new life in its essential nature, in which it is exalted above all else.

This diversity and variety, observable in the whole process of development through which Christianity has passed, in the entire history of the Church, appears also in the earliest stage of that process belonging to the apostolic age. But in its later history, we often find these differences, -- which, as already indicated, should be mutually supplemental, serving each to complete the other, -- separating the one from the other, and assuming the attitude of irreconcilable antagonism. The perception of the higher unity is wanting; although he who can recognize the One Christ in all his manifestations, partial as they may be and obscured by human narrowness of view, will be able even from this antagonism to deduce that higher unity. From this source have sprung those controversies, which have done so much to destroy rather than to edify. On the contrary, the relation of the great Teachers of the New Testament to one another, as exhibited to us in their lives and writings, enables us to view these manifold forms of conception as mutually completive; not excluding one another, but belonging together as parts of the same whole, -- the One Christ in the broken rays of his manifold revelation through various organs.

It is in this light we are to regard James, the brother of the Lord, as forming the counterpart to the great Apostle of the Gentiles. That we may be able rightly to understand and apply his Epistle, according to the plan adopted in our explanation of Paul's Epistle to the Philippians, we must first endeavor to form a distinct idea of his whole personality, as exhibited in the circumstances of his personal development and in his labors, as well as in this Epistle.

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