Text: James 1:16-7
Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
As St. Paul tells us, 'that we are not sufficient to think' a good thought, 'but our sufficiency is of God;' so the Apostle saith, It is God only from Whom 'every good giving and every perfect gift' cometh; and that we shall err if we either think that any good thing which we enjoy cometh from any other but from God, or that any thing else but good proceedeth from Him; so that as well the ability which man had by nature, as our enabling in the state of grace, is from God. He is the fountain out of Whom, as the Wise Man saith, we must draw grace by prayer, which situla gratiæ, 'the conduit or bucket of grace.' Therefore He promiseth in the Old Testament to pour upon His Church both 'the spirit of grace and of prayer,' that as they sue for grace by the one, so they may receive it in by the other. Unto this doctrine of the [311/312] Apostle in this place, even those that otherwise have no care of grace do subscribe, when they confess themselves to be destitute of the good things of this life, and therefore cry, Quis ostendet nobis bona?
As before the Apostle shewed that God is not the cause of any evil, so in this verse, he teacheth there is no good thing but God is the author of it; if He be the fountain of every good thing, then He cannot be the cause of evil, for 'no one fountain' doth out of the same hole 'yield sweet and bitter water.'
Secondly, if every good thing be of God only, then have we need to sue to Him by prayer, that from Him we may receive that which we have not of ourselves. Wherefore as this Scripture serves to kindle in us the love of God, forasmuch as He contains all good things that we can desire, so it is a special means to provoke us to the duty of prayer.
This proposition hath two parts: first, an universal affirmative in these words, 'Every good giving;' secondly, a prevention; for where it may be objected, that howsoever some good things come of God yet evil things also may successively come from Him, even as the heathens say that Jupiter hath diversed boxes out of which he doth pour both good and evil, the Apostle preventeth that objection and saith, 'that with God there is no variableness nor shadow of changing.' So that as the meaning of these words in the Prophet Osee, Salus tua tantummodo ex Me, is both that salvation is only of God, and that nothing else but salvation cometh from Him; so the Apostle's meaning in these words is, both that God is only the cause of good, and that He is the cause of nothing else but good, lest when we are tempted unto evil, we should make God the author of all such temptations.
The former part of the proposition called subjectum is, Every good giving, &tc. The latter part called prædicatum is 'descendeth from above.'
Where the heathen call all virtues and good qualities which they have xeij, of having, the Apostle calleth them dÒseij ka dwp»mata, of giving, to teach us that whatsoever good quality is in any man, he hath it not as a quality within himself, but he receiveth it from without as it is a gift.
[312/313] Esau speaking of the blessings bestowed upon him saith, 'I have enough;' and the rich man Anima, 'Soul, thou hast much good;' as though they had not received them from God: but the saints of God spoke otherwise. Jacob saith, 'These are the children which God hath given me.' Again, when Pilate without all respect of God of Whom the Apostle saith, 'There is no power but of God,' said, 'Knowest Thou not, that I have power to crucify and to loose Thee?' our Saviour said again, 'Thou shouldest have no power over Me, except it were given thee from above.'
The consideration hereof serveth to exclude our 'boasting;' that' the wise man boast not of his wisdom,' seeing wisdom, strength and whatsoever good things we have, it is the good gift of God, as the Apostle tells us, Quid habes quod non accepisti?
Secondly, this division is to be marked, that of the good things which come from God some are called donationes others dona; and to these two substantives are added two adjectives, whereof one doth answer to the givings of God's goodness, the other to the gifts of God ascribeth perfection.
The first error the Apostle willeth them to beware is, that they think not that God is the cause of any evil, because every good thing cometh from him; the second error is, that they should not conceive this opinion, that the main benefits are from God, and the lesser benefits are from ourselves; not so, for the Apostle tells us, that as well 'every good giving,' as 'every perfect gift, is from above.'That which then Apostle calls donatio is a transistory thing; but by gift he meaneth that which is permanent and lasting.
Joseph is recorded to have given to his brethren not only corn, 'but victuals to spend by the way.' So by 'giving,' the Apostle here understandeth such things as we need in this life, while we travel towards our heavenly country; but that which he calleth 'gifts' are the treasures which are laid up for us in the life to come; and thus the words are used in these several senses.
Of things transitory the Apostle saith, 'No Church dealt with me in the matter of giving;' there the word is dÒsij: but speaking of the good things that come to us by Christ he saith, 'The gift is not as the fault,' where the word is dèrhma.
[313/314] By giving he understandeth beauty, strength, riches, and every transistory thing whereof we stand in need, while we are yet in our journey towards our heavenly country; such as Job speaks of, Dominus dedit, Dominus abstulit. By 'gift' he meaneth the felicity that is reserved for us after this life, the kingdom of heaven, that whereof our Saviour saith to Martha, 'Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken from her.'
That which is a stay to us in this life is dÒsij, but 'the things which neither eye hath seen, nor ear heard, all which are reserved for them that love God,' these are dwr»mata, and as well the one as the other come from God. So much we are taught by the adjectives that are joined to these words. 'Givings' are called 'good,' and the 'gifts' of God are called 'perfect;' in which words the Apostle's purpose is to teach us that not only the great benefits of the life to come, such as are perfect, are of Him; but that even that good which we have in this life, though it be yet imperfect and may be made better, is received from Him and not elsewhere. 'Who doth despise little things?' saith the Prophet.
God is the author both of 'perfect' and 'good things:' as the image of the prince is to be seen as well in a small piece of coin as in a piece of greater value, so we are to consider the goodness of God, as well in the things of this life as in the graces that concern the life to come, yea even in this, 'to think that which is good.'
Of Him are the small things as well as the great. Therefore our Saviour teacheth us to pray not only for that 'perfect gift,' ut adveniat Regenum, but even for these lesser good things, which are but His 'givings,' namely, that He would 'give us our daily bread.'
Under 'good' are contained all gifts' both natural or temporal. Those 'givings' which are natural, as to live, to move, and have understanding, are good, for of them it is said, 'God saw all that He made, and lo, all was good.'
Of gifts temporal, the heathen have doubted whether they were good, to wit, riches, honour, &c., but the Christians are resolved that they are good. So our Saviour teacheth us to esteem them, when speaking of fish and bread, He saith, 'If you which are evil can give your children god things.' And [314/315] the Apostle saith, 'He that hath this world's good.' For as St. Augustine saith, That is not only good quod facit bonum, sed de quo fit bonum, 'That is not only good that makes good, but whereof is made good:' so albeit riches do not make a man good always, yet because he may do good with them they are good.
The gift which the Apostle calls 'perfect' is grace and glory, whereof the one is in this life the beginning of perfection; the other in the life to come is the end and constancy of our perfection, whereof the Prophet speaketh, 'The Lord will give grace and glory.'
The Apostle saith, Nihil perfectum adduxit Lex, 'The Law brought nothing to perfection;' that is, by reason of the imperfection of our nature, and 'the weakness of our flesh.'
To supply the defect that is in nature grace is added, that grace might make that perfect which is imperfect.
The person that giveth us his grace is Jesus Christ, 'by Whom grace and truth came.' And therefore he saith estote perfecti sicut Pater vester coelestis perfectus est. And by this grace not only our sins are taken away, but our souls are endued with inherent virtues, and receive grace and ability from God, to proceed from one degree of perfection to another all our life time, even till the time of death, which is the beginning and accomplishment of our perfection, as our Saviour speaketh of His death.
In the latter part of the proposition we are to consider the place from whence, and the Person from Whom, we receive these gifts; the one is superne, the other a Patre luminum Now he instructeth us to beware of a third error, that we look not either on the right hand or one the left hand, that we regard not the persons of great men, which are but instruments of God, if we have any good from them; all the good we have it is desursum, the thought of our hearts that arise in them, if they tend to good, are not of ourselves but infused into us by the divine power of God's Spirit, and so is whatsoever good thought, word, or work, proceeding from us. This is one of the first parts of divinity John Baptist taught: 'A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from above.' This was the cause of Christ's ascending into heaven: 'He went up on high' and dedit dona hominibus; and the Evangelist saith [315/316] 'The Holy Ghost' Which is the most perfect gift that can come to men 'were not yet given, because Christ was not yet ascended.' Therefore, if we possess any blessing or receive any benefit, we must not look to earthly means but to heaven.
The thing which is here mentioned excludeth the fourth error: we think that things come to us by fortune, or customably; he says not that good things fall down from above, but they descend, et qui descendit proposito descendit. Our instruction from hence is, that they descend from a cause intelligent, even from God Himself, Who in his counsel and provision bestoweth His blessings as seemeth best to Himself; for as the heathen men speaketh, God hath sinum facilem but not perforatum, that is, 'a lap easy to receive and yield, but not bored through,' to let things fall through without discretion.
When the Prophet saith, Tu aperis manum, he doth not say that God letteth His blessings drop out of His fingers. Christ, when He promised to His disciples to send the Comforter, saith, Ego, mittam Eum ad vos. Whereby He giveth them to understand, that it is not by casualty or chance that the Holy Ghost shall come upon them, but by deliberate counsel of God: so the Apostle speaks, 'Of his own will begat He us by the word of truth.'
The Person from Whom, is 'the Father of lights.' The heathens found this to be true, that all good things come from above, but they thought that the lights in heaven are the causes of all good things: therefore is it that they worship the sun, moon, and stars. St. James saith, 'Be not deceived, all good things come not from the lights, but from the Father of lights.' The natural lights were made in ministerium cunctis gentibus; and the Angels that are the intellectual lights, are appointed to do service unto the elect.
But it is 'the Father of lights' that giveth us all good things; therefore He only is to be worshipped, and not the lights which He hath made to our use.
God is called 'the Father of lights,' first, in opposition to the lights themselves, to teach us that the lights are not the causes of good things but He That said, Fiat lux. Secondly, in regard of the emanation, whether we respect the sunbeams called radii shining in at a little hole, or the great beam of [316/317] the sun called jubar, He is the Author of both, and so is the cause of all the light of understanding, whether it be in small or great measure. Thirdly, to shew the nature of God: nothing hath so great alliance with God as light; 'light maketh all things manifest,' and the wicked hate the light, 'because their works are evil'. But God is the 'Father of lights' because as out of light cometh nothing by light, so God is the cause of that which is good.
Again, light is the cause of goodness to those things that are good of themselves; 'It is a pleasant thing to behold the light.' On the other side, howsoever good things are in themselves, yet they afford small pleasure or delight to him that is shut up in a dark dungeon, where he is deprived of the benefit of light. So God is 'the Father of lights' for that not only all things have their goodness from Him, but because He makes them good also.
Light is the first good thing that God created for man; Fiat lux. But God is 'the Father of lights,' to shew that He is the First cause of any good thing that can come to us.
Again, because He is that only cause of the visible light which at the first He created, and also of that spiritual light whereby He shineth into our hearts, by 'the light of the Gospel,' the Apostle saith of the whole Trinity, Deus lux est, More particularly Christ saith of Himself, Ego sum lux mundi.
The Holy Ghost is called light, where He is represented by 'the fiery tongues.' The angels are flÒjx puroj. David also, as a civil magistrate, was called 'the light of Israel.' Ecclesiastical ministers are called light; Vos etis lux mundi. And not only they, but the people that are of good conversation are said to shine tanquam luminaria in mundo. All these 'lights' have their being from God, and for this cause He is worthily called Lux mundi, and 'the Father of Lights.' Again, this name is opposed unto darkness; 'God is light, and in Him there is no darkness:' therefore the ignorance of our minds is not to be imputed unto Him. 'He is the light that lighteneth every one,' and 'cannot be comprehended of darkness;' therefore it is not long of Him, that we through ignorance are said, 'to sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death;' this comes of the devil, the prince of darkness, who blindeth men's eyes. God is 'the Father of lights.'
[317/318] Furthermore, He is so called to distinguish Him from hear. The lights which we make for these private uses, do not only give light but heat also, but God giveth light without heat; wherefore such as are of fiery spirit as the disciples that said, 'Shall we command that fire come down from heaven and consume them?' are not like God. Christ is called the 'day-star,' not the dog-star. God is said to have 'walked in the cool of the day,' not in the heat of the day. When God would speak to Elijah, He shewed Himself not in the fire, but in a small still voice, to teach men that, if they will be like God, they must be of a meek and quiet spirit. He is said to 'dwell in light,' not that He is of a hot fiery nature as our lights are, but because He giveth us the light of knowledge.
In respect of the number, He is not called the Father of one light, but Pater luminum. It was an imperfection in Jacob that he had but one blessing. God is not the cause of some one good thing, but as there are divers stars 'and one star differeth from another in glory,' so as we receive many good things and of them some are greater than others, so they all come from God, Who is the author and fountain of them all.
Our manifold imperfections are noted, by the word tenebrae, which is a word of the plural number, and in regard thereof it is needful that God in Whom we have perfection shall not be Pater luminis but Pater luminum. Our miseries are many; therefore that He may deliver us quite out of miseries, there is with the Lord copiosa redemptio The sins which we commit against God are many; therefore He is the Father, not of one mercy, but Pater misericordiarum. The Apostle Peter tells us that the mercy of God is multiformis gratia. So that whenever we commit small sins or great, we may be bold to call upon God for mercy: 'According to the multitude of Thy mercies have mercy upon me.' For as our sins do abound, so the mercy of God whereby He pardoneth and is inclined to pardon us, is exuberans gratia.
The darkness that we are subject to is manifold: there is darkness inward, not only in the understanding where the Gentiles are said 'to have their cogitations darkened,' but in the heart whereof the Apostle speaketh, 'He that hateth his brother is in darkness.'
[318/319] And there is the darkness of tribulation and affliction, where of the Prophet speaketh, 'Thou shalt make my darkness to be light;' and the misery which the wicked suffer in the world to come which our Saviour calleth utter darkness. God doth help us and give us light in all these darknesses, and therefore is called 'the Father of lights.'
As the sun giveth light to the body, so God hath provided light for the soul; and that is, first, the light of nature, which teacheth us that this is a just thing, ne alii facias quod tibi fieri non vis: from this light we have this knowledge, that we are not of ourselves but of another, and of this light the Wise Man saith, 'The soul of man is the candle of the Lord. They that resist this light of nature are called rebelles lumini. With this light 'every one that cometh into this world is enlightened.' Howbeit this light hath caught a fall, as Mephibosheth did, and thereupon it halteth; notwithstanding, because it is of the blood royal, it is worthy to be made of.
Next, God kindleth a light of grace by His word, which is lex pedibus, and lux oculis; and that we may be capable of this outward light, He lighteneth us with His Spirit; because the light of the Law shined but darkly, therefore He hath called us into the light of His Gospel, which is His marvellous light. He lighteth the outward darkness of affliction by ministering comfort; 'there springeth up light for the righteous and joyful gladness for such as are true of heart.' In the multitude of my sorrows, Thy comforts have refreshed my soul. He giveth us everlasting consolation, and good hope through grace. And that we should not be cast into utter darkness, He 'hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,' yea 'He hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His beloved Son.'
From hence it followeth: first, if all good things be 'gifts,' we may not boast of them; if they come from God, we may not forget Him from Whom we receive them.
Secondly, because 'gifts' are rather commendata quam data because there is lÒgoj dÒsewj, seeing God will come and take account of the talents, we must neither wastefully misspend them, nor have them without profit., Ut crescit donumn, sic crescat ratio donati.
[319/320] Thirdly, seeing they come from above, we must not be like blind moles, nor as swine grovelling upon the earth, which eat the acorns that fall from the tree and never look up, but it may teach us to look up: Sursum cor, qui habes suersum caput.
Fourthly, seeing God is Pater luminum, we must walk as 'children of the light' for we are not 'darkness but light.'
Fifthly, seeing God hath divers good things in His hand to give, we must desire to receive them from Him by prayer.