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teaches a directly opposite doctrine. It is therefore not only allowable, it is absolutely necessary, to understand the proposition in the text with some qualification. The only question is, what this qualification shall be. It is a question certainly of the utmost importance, and well worthy our most serious attention. It is not a matter of nice, and curious, and unprofitable speculation. It is a point in which we are all most deeply interested, and the decision of it must be of great moment to every moral agent, who thinks himself bound by the precepts, or looks forward to the rewards of the Gospel: The common interpretation of the text is this. All the laws of the Christian Revelation are founded upon one and the same authority of God. Therefore, every offence against any of those laws is a contempt of the authority upon which they all depend, and consequently every act of disobedience is a breach of the whole law, because subversive of that authority on which the whole law stands.

But to this interpretation it has been observed, that there is one insuperable objection. It is evidently liable to all the difficulties

difficulties of the Stoical paradox, that all offences are equal. For if the guilt of sin depends not upon the nature and circumstances of the sinful action, but upon the authority of the lawgiver, then every sin being an offence against the same authority, is of the same guilt and heinousness, and consequently will be subject to the same degree of punishment in a future state: which is clearly repugnant to every idea of equity and justice, and (as we shall see hereafter) to the express declarations of holy writ. We must therefore look to some other explanation of this confessedly difficult passage, more consonant to reason and to Scripture.

Now the most probable way of arriving at the true sense of it, is, I conceive, to take into consideration the whole of the context, the persons to whom the Apostle's admonition is addressed, the particular object he had in view, and the particular doctrine which that object required him to establish.

The persons to whom this Epistle of St. James was addressed, were, as he himself tells us, the twelve tribes that were scattered abroad;

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abroad; that is, to those who had been converted from Judaism to Christianity, and who of course still retained several of their old Judaical prejudices.

Some of these Jewish Christians had, it seems, been guilty of making very invidious and grating distinctions between the rich and the poor in their religious assemblies; had treated the former with the most flattering marks of respect, and the latter with harshness and contempt. For this the Apostle, in the verses preceding the text, very severely reproves them, upbraids them with the gross partiality they had shown on this occasion, and tells them, that however trivial this sort of injustice might appear to them, it was in fact a very serious offence, because it was a breach of the great evangelical law of charity, which forbids every kind of insult or injury to our poorer brethrent. "If, says he, we fulfil


* James i. 1.

+ St. Austin confines the Apostle's nieaning entirely and exclusively to offences against this great important law of Christian charity, which both St. James and St. Paul say, is the fulfilling of the law.

Plenitudo legis est charitas, ac per hoc qui totam legem servaverit si in uno offenderit fit omnium reus, quia contra charitatem

the royal law according to the Scripture, (that is, the law which says, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself), ye do well: but if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors," transgressors of the great royal law of Christian charity or universal love. To this the Jewish convert would have an answer ready, founded on a received maxim of his former religion. For the Jews entertained an idea that the reason why God gave them so many commandments was, that by keeping any one of them they might be saved. This therefore they would urge to the Apostle in their own defence, and would say" Admitting that we have offended against the law of Christ in one instance, yet, as we have observed it in another of great importance, we shall still be entitled to the pardon of our sins, and the rewards of our virtue in a future state." A doctrine so false and pernicious as this, St. James would of course most strenuously oppose, and 'would charitatem facit unde tota lex pendet. August. op. tom. ii. Ep. 29. ad Hieronymum. Bishop Sherlock takes up the same idea, and dilates upon it with great ingenuity.Disc. v. i. D. 13.



would naturally express his disapprobation of it, in the strongest possible terms that language could supply. No, says he, so far is it from being true, that the observance of one single precept will save you, that the direct contrary doctrine is the true one. "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” This is undoubtedly a very strong expression, but the peculiar circumstances of the case called for it; and it must be understood, like many other concise and proverbial maxims of the same sort, with considerable abatements and allowances for the peculiar idioms and phraseology of the times and the countries where it was used, and with a due consideration also of the occasion which drew it forth, and of the specific object which the speaker had in view. Now his object evidently was to convince the Jewish Christian with whom he was arguing, that he had violated in one material instance, the great royal law of charity; that this was a very heinous offence, and that while he was guilty of this offence, his observance of the law in other respects would avail him nothing. But in order to convince him of this, he was not obliged

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