Pure religion, and undefiled - Having seen something of the etymology of the word θρησκεια, which we translate religion, it will be well to consider the etymology of the word religion itself.
In the 28th chapter of the 4th book of his Divine Instructions, Lactantius, who flourished about a.d. 300, treats of hope, true religion, and superstition; of the two latter he gives Cicero's definition from his book De Natura Deorum, lib. ii. c. 28, which with his own definition will lead us to a correct view, not only of the etymology, but of the thing itself.
"Superstition," according to that philosopher, "had its name from the custom of those who offered daily prayers and sacrifices, that their children might Survive Them; ut sui sibi liberi superstites essent. Hence they were called superstitiosi, superstitious. On the other hand, religion, religio, had its name from those who, not satisfied with what was commonly spoken concerning the nature and worship of the gods, searched into the whole matter, and perused the writings of past times; hence they were called religiosi, from re, again, and lego, I read."
This definition Lactantius ridicules, and shows that religion has its name from re, intensive, and ligo, I bind, because of that bond of piety by which it binds us to God, and this he shows was the notion conceived of it by Lucretius, who labored to dissolve this bond, and make men atheists.
Primum quod magnis doceo de rebus, et Arctis
Religionum animos Nodis Exsolvere pergo.
For first I teach great things in lofty strains,
And loose men from religion's grievous chains.
Lucret., lib. i., ver. 930, 931
As to superstition, he says it derived its name from those who paid religious veneration to the memory of the dead, (qui superstitem memoriam defunctorem colunt), or from those who, surviving their parents, worshipped their images at home, as household gods; aut qui, parentibus suis superstites, colebant imagines eorum domi, tanquam deos penates. Superstition, according to others, refers to novel rites and ceremonies in religion, or to the worship of new gods. But by religion are meant the ancient forms of worship belonging to those gods, which had long been received. Hence that saying of Virgil: -
Vana superstitio veterumque ignara deorum.
"Vain superstition not knowing the ancient gods."
Here Lactantius observes, that as the ancient gods were consecrated precisely in the same way with these new ones, that therefore it was nothing but superstition from the beginning. Hence he asserts, the superstitious are those who worship many and false gods, and the Christians alone are religious, who worship and supplicate the one true God only. St. James' definition rather refers to the effects of pure religion than to its nature. The life of God in the soul of man, producing love to God and man, will show itself in the acts which St. James mentions here. It is pure in the principle, for it is Divine truth and Divine love. It is undefiled in all its operations: it can produce nothing unholy, because it ever acts in the sight of God; and it can produce no ungentle word nor unkind act, because it comes from the Father.
The words καθαρα και αμιαντος, pure and undefiled, are supposed to have reference to a diamond or precious stone, whose perfection consists in its being free from flaws; not cloudy, but of a pure water. True religion is the ornament of the soul, and its effects, the ornament of the life.
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction - Works of charity and mercy are the proper fruits of religion; and none are more especially the objects of charity and mercy than the orphans and widows. False religion may perform acts of mercy and charity; but its motives not being pure, and its principle being defiled, the flesh, self, and hypocrisy, spot the man, and spot his acts. True religion does not merely give something for the relief of the distressed, but it visits them, it takes the oversight of them, it takes them under its care; so επισκεπτεσθαι means. It goes to their houses, and speaks to their hearts; it relieves their wants, sympathizes with them in their distresses, instructs them in Divine things and recommends them to God. And all this it does for the Lord's sake. This is the religion of Christ. The religion that does not prove itself by works of charity and mercy is not of God. Reader, what religion hast thou? Has thine ever led thee to cellars, garrets, cottages, and houses, to find out the distressed? Hast thou ever fed, clothed, and visited a destitute representative of Christ?
The subject in James 1:11; suggests several reflections on the mutability of human affairs, and the end of all things.
I shall confirm these observations with the last verses of that incomparable poem, the Faery Queene, of our much neglected but unrivalled poet, Edmund Spenser: -
"When I bethink me on that speech whylear,
Of mutability, and well it weigh;
Me seems, that though she all unworthy were
Of the heaven's rule; yet very sooth to say,
In all things else she bears the greatest sway;
Which makes me loath this state of life so tickle,
And love of things so vain to cast away;
Whose flow'ring pride, so fading and so fickle,
Short Time shall soon cut down with his consuming sickle.
Then gin I think on that which Nature sayd,
Of that same time when no more change shall be,
But stedfast rest of all things, firmly stayd
Upon the pillours of eternity,
That is contrayr to mutability:
For all that moveth, doth in change delight:
But thenceforth all shall rest eternally
With him that is the God of Sabaoth hight:
O that great Sabaoth God, grant me that Sabaoth's sight!"
When this is to be the glorious issue, who can regret the speedy lapse of time? Mutability shall end in permanent perfection, when time, the destroyer of all things, shall be absorbed in eternity. And what has a righteous man to fear from that "wreck of matter and that crush of worlds," which to him shall usher in the glories of an eternal day? A moralist has said, "Though heaven shall vanish like a vapour, and this firm globe of earth shall crumble into dust, the righteous man shall stand unmoved amidst the shocked depredations of a crushed world; for he who hath appointed the heavens and the earth to fail, hath said unto the virtuous soul, Fear not! for thou shalt neither perish nor be wretched."
Dr. Young has written most nervously, in the spirit of the highest order of poetry, and with the knowledge and feeling of a sound divine, on this subject, in his Night Thoughts. Night vi. in fine.
Of man immortal hear the lofty style: -
"If so decreed, th' Almighty will be done.
Let earth dissolve, yon ponderous orbs descend
And grind us into dust: the soul is safe;
The man emerges; mounts above the wreck,
As towering flame from nature's funeral pyre;
O'er desolation, as a gainer, smiles;
His charter, his inviolable rights,
Well pleased to learn from thunder's impotence,
Death's pointless darts, and hell's defeated storms."
After him, and borrowing his imagery and ideas, another of our poets, in canticis sacris facile princeps, has expounded and improved the whole in the following hymn on the Judgment.
"Stand the Omnipotent decree,
Jehovah's will be done!
Nature's end we wait to see,
And hear her final groan.
Let this earth dissolve, and blend
In death the wicked and the just;
Let those ponderous orbs descend
And grind us into dust.
Rests secure the righteous man;
At his Redeemer's beck,
Sure to emerge, and rise again,
And mount above the wreck.
Lo! the heavenly spirit towers
Like flames o'er nature's funeral pyre;
Triumphs in immortal powers,
And claps her wings of fire.
Nothing hath the just to lose
By worlds on worlds destroy'd;
Far beneath his feet he views,
With smiles, the flaming void;
Sees the universe renew'd;
The grand millennial reign begun;
Shouts with all the sons of God
Around th' eternal throne."
One word more, and I shall trouble my reader no farther on a subject on which I could wear out my pen and drain the last drop of my ink. The learned reader will join in the wish.
"Talia saecla suis dixerunt, currite, fusis
Concordes stabili fatorum numine Parcae.
Aggredere O magnos (aderit jam tempus!) honores,
Cara Deum soboles, magnum Jovis incrementum.
Aspice convexo nutantem pondere mundum,
Terrasque, tractusque maris, coelumque profundum:
Aspice, venturo laetentur ut omnia saeclo.
O mihi tam longae maneat pars ultima vitae,
Spiritus, et quantum sat erit tua dicere facta!"
Virg. Eclog. iv.
'απο των φωτων Πατρος καταβαινον ανωθεν.
"Every goodly gift, and every perfect donation,
Is from the Father of lights, and from above it descendeth."
- - Αγαθοι δε
Και σοφοι κατα Δαιμον 'ανδρες.
Man, boast of naught: whate'er thou hast is given;
Wisdom and virtue are the gifts of Heaven.
The word παραλλαγη, which we translate variableness, from παραλλαττω, to change alternately, to pass from one change to another, evidently refers to parallax in astronomy. To give a proper idea of what astronomers mean by this term, it must be premised that all the diurnal motions of the heavenly bodies from east to west are only apparent, being occasioned by the rotation of the earth upon its axis in an opposite direction in about twenty-four hours. These diurnal motions are therefore performed uniformly round the axis or polar diameter of the earth, and not round the place of the spectator, who is upon the earth's surface. Hence every one who observes the apparent motion of the heavens from this surface will find that this motion is not even, equal arches being described in unequal times; for if a globular body, such as the earth, describe equally the circumference of a circle by its rotatory motion, it is evident the equality of this motion can be seen in no other points than those in the axis of the circle, and therefore any object viewed from the center of the earth will appear in a different place from what it does when observed from the surface. This difference of place of the same object, seen at the same time from the earth's center and surface, is called its parallax.
As I shall make some farther use of this point, in order to make it plain to those who are not much acquainted with the subject, to which I am satisfied St. James alludes, I shall introduce the following diagram: Let the circle OKNS. in the annexed figure, represent the earth, E its center, O the place of an observer on its surface, whose visible or sensible horizon is OH, and the line EST, parallel to OH, the rational, true, or mathematical horizon. Let ZDFT be considered a portion of a great circle in the heavens, and A the place of an object in the visible horizon. Join EA by a line produced to C: then C is the true place of the object, and H is its apparent place; and the angle CAH is its parallax; and, because the object is in the horizon, it is called its horizontal parallax. As OAE, the angle which the earth's radius or semidiameter subtends to the object, is necessarily equal to its opposite angle CAH, hence the horizontal parallax of an object is defined to be the angle which the earth's semidiameter subtends at that object.
The whole effect of parallax is in a vertical direction; for the parallactic angle is in the plane passing through the observer and the earth's center, which plane is necessarily perpendicular to the horizon, the earth being considered as a sphere. The more elevated an object is above the horizon, the less the parallax, the distance from the earth's center continuing the same. To make this sufficiently clear, let B represent an object at any given altitude above the visible horizon OAH; then the angle DBF, formed by the straight lines OB and EB produced to F and D, will be the parallax of the object at the given altitude, and is less than the parallax of the same object when in the visible horizon OAH, for the angle DBF is less than the angle CAH. Hence the horizontal parallax is the greatest of all diurnal parallaxes; and when the object is in the zenith, it has no parallax, the visual ray passing perpendicularly from the object through the observer to the earth's center, as in the line Zoe.
The quantity of the horizontal parallax of any object is in proportion to its distance from the place of observation, being greater or less as the object is nearer to or farther removed from the spectator. In illustration of this point, let I be the place of an object in the sensible horizon; then will LIH be its horizontal parallax, which is a smaller angle than CAH, the horizontal parallax of the nearer object A.
The horizontal parallax being given, the distance of the object from the earth's center, EA or EI, may be readily found in semidiameters of the earth by the resolution of the right-angled triangle OEA, in which we have given the angle OAE, the horizontal parallax, the side OE, the semidiameter of the earth, considered as unity, and the right angle AOE, to find the side EA, the distance of the object from the earth's center. The proportion to be used in this case is: The sine of the horizontal parallax is to unity, the semidiameter of the earth, as radius, i.e. the right angle AOE, the sine of ninety degrees being the radius of a circle, is to the side EA. This proportion is very compendiously wrought by logarithms as follows: Subtract the logarithmic sine of the horizontal parallax from 10, the radius, and the remainder will be the logarithm of the answer.
Example. When the moon's horizontal parallax is a degree, what is her distance from the earth's center in semidiameters of the earth?
From the radius 10.0000000 Subtract the sine of 1 degree 8.2418553 Remainder the logarithm of 57.2987 1.7581447
Which is the distance of the moon in semidiameters of the earth, when her horizontal parallax amounts to a degree. If 57.2987 be multiplied by 3977, the English miles contained in the earth's semidiameter, the product, 227876.9, will be the moon's distance from the earth's center in English miles.
The sun's horizontal parallax is about eight seconds and three-fifths, as is evident from the phenomena attending the transits of Venus, of 1761 and 1769, as observed in different parts of the world: a method of obtaining the solar parallax abundantly less liable to be materially affected by error of observation than that of Hipparchus, who lived between the 154th and 163d Olympiad, from lunar eclipses; or than that of Aristarchus the Samian, from the moon's dichotomy; or even than that of modern astronomers from the parallax of Mars when in opposition, and, at the same time, in or near his perihelion. The sun's horizontal parallax being scarcely the four hundred and eighteenth part of that of the moon given in the preceding example, if 227876.9, the distance of the moon as found above, be multiplied by 418.6, (for the horizontal parallax decreases nearly in proportion as the distance increases), the product will be the distance of the sun from the earth's center, which will be found to be upwards of ninety-five millions of English miles.
When we know the horizontal parallax of any object, its magnitude is easily determined. The apparent diameter of the sun, for example, at his mean distance from the earth, is somewhat more than thirty-two minutes of a degree, which is at least a hundred and eleven times greater than the double of the sun's horizontal parallax, or the apparent diameter of the earth as seen from the sun; therefore, the real solar diameter must be at least a hundred and eleven times greater than that of the earth; i.e. upwards of 880,000 English miles. And as spherical bodies are to each other as the cubes of their diameters, if 111 be cubed, we shall find that the magnitude of the sun is more than thirteen hundred thousand times greater than that of the earth.
The whole effect of parallax being in a vertical circle, and the circles of the sphere not being in this direction, the parallax of a star will evidently change its true place with respect to these different circles; whence there are five kinds of diurnal parallaxes, viz. the parallax of longitude, parallax of latitude, parallax of ascension or descension, parallax: of declination, and parallax of altitude, the last of which has been already largely explained; and the meaning of the first four, simply, is the difference between the true and visible longitude, latitude, right ascension, and declination of an object. Besides these, there is another kind of parallax, called by modern astronomers the parallax of the earth's Annual Orbit, by which is meant the difference between the places of a planet as seen from the sun and the earth at the same time, the former being its true or heliocentric place, and the latter its apparent or geocentric place. The ancient astronomers gave the term parallax only to the diurnal apparent inequalities of motion in the moon and planets; Ptolemy, who lived in the second century, calling prosaphaeresis orbis what is now named the parallax of the great or annual orbit. This parallax is more considerable than the diurnal parallax, as the earth's annual orbit is more considerable than the earth's semidiameter. This parallax, when greatest, amounts in Mars, the nearest superior planet, to upwards of forty-seven degrees; in Jupiter to near twelve degrees; in Saturn to more than six degrees, etc. In the region of the nearest fixed stars, i.e. those new ones of 1572 and 1604, double the radius of the earth's orbit does not subtend an angle of a single minute of a degree; whence it is evident the nearest fixed stars are at least hundreds of times more distant from us than the Georgium Sidus is, whose greatest annual parallax amounts to upwards of three degrees. The annual parallaxes of the fixed stars are, in general, too minute to be measured; hence their distances from the earth must be inconceivably great.
Any farther description of parallax would be useless in reference to the subject to be illustrated.
The words τροπης αποσκιασμα, shadow of turning, either refer to the darkness in which the earth is involved in consequence of its turning round its axis once in every twenty-four hours, by means of which one hemisphere, or half of its surface, is involved in darkness, being hidden from the sun by the opposite hemisphere; or to the different portions of the earth which come gradually into the solar light by its revolution round its orbit, which, in consequence of the pole of the earth being inclined nearly twenty-three degrees and a half to the plane of its orbit, and keeping its parallelism through every part of its revolution, causes all the vicissitudes of season, with all the increasing and decreasing proportions of light and darkness, and of cold and heat.
Every person who understands the images will see with what propriety St. James has introduced them; and through this his great object is at once discernible. It is evident from this chapter that there were persons, among those to whom he wrote, that held very erroneous opinions concerning the Divine nature; viz. that God tempted or influenced men to sin, and, consequently, that he was the author of all the evil that is in the world; and that he withholds his light and influence when necessary to convey truth and to correct vice. To destroy this error he shows that though the sun, for its splendor, genial heat, and general utility to the globe and its inhabitants, may be a fit emblem of God, yet in several respects the metaphor is very imperfect; for the sun himself is liable to repeated obscurations; and although, as to his mass, he is the focus of the system, giving light and heat to all, yet he is not everywhere present, and both his light and heat may be intercepted by a great variety of opposing bodies, and other causes. St. James refers particularly to the Divine ubiquity or omnipresence. Wherever his light and energy are, there is he himself; neither his word nor his Spirit gives false or inconsistent views of his nature and gracious purposes. He has no parallax, because he is equally present everywhere, and intimately near to all his creatures; He is never seen where he is not, or not seen where he is. He is the God and Father of all; who is Above all, and Through all, and In all; "in the wide waste, as in the city full;" nor can any thing be hidden from his light and heat. There can be no opposing bodies to prevent him from sending forth his light and truth, because he is everywhere essentially present. He suffers no eclipses; he changes not in his nature; he varies not in his designs; he is ever a full, free, and eternal fountain of mercy, goodness, truth, and good will, to all his intelligent offspring. Hallelujah, the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth! Amen.
In concluding these observations, I think it necessary to refer to Mr. Wakefield's translation of this text, and his vindication of that translation: Every good gift, and every perfect kindness, cometh down from above, from the Father of lights, with whom is no parallax, nor tropical shadow. "Some have affected," says he, "to ridicule my translation of this verse, if it be obscure, the author must answer for that, and not the translator. Why should we impoverish the sacred writers, by robbing them of the learning and science they display? Why should we conceal in them what we should ostentatiously point out in profane authors? And if any of these wise, learned, and judicious critics think they understand the phrase shadow of turning, I wish they would condescend to explain it." Yes, if such a sentiment were found in Aratus, or in any other ancient astronomical writer, whole pages of commentary would be written on it, and the subtle doctrine of the parallactic angle proved to be well known in itself, and its use in determining the distances and magnitudes of the heavenly bodies, to the ancients some hundreds of years before the Christian era.
The sentiment is as elegant as it is just, and forcibly points out the unchangeableness and beneficence of God. He is the Sun, not of a system, but of all worlds; the great Fountain and Dispenser of light and heat, of power and life, of order, harmony, and perfection. In him all live and move, and from him they have their being. There are no spots on his disk; all is unclouded splendor. Can he who dwells in this unsufferable and unapproachable light, in his own eternal self-sufficiency, concern himself with the affairs of mortals? Yes, for we are his offspring; and it is one part of his perfection to delight in the welfare of his intelligent creatures. He is loving to every man: he hates nothing that he has made; and his praise endureth for ever!
Pure religion - On the word here rendered “religion” ( θρησκεία thrēskeia), see the notes at Colossians 2:18. It is used here evidently in the sense of piety, or as we commonly employ the word religion. The object of the apostle is to describe what enters essentially into religion; what it will do when it is properly and fairly developed. The phrase “pure religion” means that which is genuine and sincere, or which is free from any improper mixture. And undefiled before God and the Father - That which God sees to be pure and undefiled. Rosenmuller supposes that there is a metaphor here taken from pearls or gems, which should be pure, or without stain. Is this - That is, this enters into it; or this is religion such as God approves. The apostle does not say that this is the whole of religion, or that there is nothing else essential to it; but his general design clearly is, to show that religion will lead to a holy life, and he mentions this as a specimen, or an instance of what it will lead us to do. The things which he specifies here are in fact two: (1)that pure religion will lead to a life of practical benevolence; and, (2)that it will keep us unspotted from the world. If these things are found, they show that there is true piety. If they are not, there is none. To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction - To go to see, to look after, to be ready to aid them. This is an instance or specimen of what true religion will do, showing that it will lead to a life of practical benevolence. It may be remarked in respect to this: (1)that this has always been regarded as an essential thing in true religion; because (a) it is thus an imitation of God, who is “a father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows in his holy habitation,” Psalm 68:5; and who has always revealed himself as their friend, Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 14:29; Psalm 10:14; Psalm 82:3; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 7:7; Jeremiah 49:11; Hosea 14:3. (b) Religion is represented as leading its friends to do this, or this is required everywhere of those who claim to be religious, Isaiah 1:17; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 14:29; Exodus 22:22; Job 29:11-13. (2
And undefiled before God and the Father - That which God sees to be pure and undefiled. Rosenmuller supposes that there is a metaphor here taken from pearls or gems, which should be pure, or without stain.
Is this - That is, this enters into it; or this is religion such as God approves. The apostle does not say that this is the whole of religion, or that there is nothing else essential to it; but his general design clearly is, to show that religion will lead to a holy life, and he mentions this as a specimen, or an instance of what it will lead us to do. The things which he specifies here are in fact two:
(1)that pure religion will lead to a life of practical benevolence; and,
(2)that it will keep us unspotted from the world. If these things are found, they show that there is true piety. If they are not, there is none.
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction - To go to see, to look after, to be ready to aid them. This is an instance or specimen of what true religion will do, showing that it will lead to a life of practical benevolence. It may be remarked in respect to this:
(1)that this has always been regarded as an essential thing in true religion; because
(a) it is thus an imitation of God, who is “a father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows in his holy habitation,” Psalm 68:5; and who has always revealed himself as their friend, Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 14:29; Psalm 10:14; Psalm 82:3; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 7:7; Jeremiah 49:11; Hosea 14:3.
(b) Religion is represented as leading its friends to do this, or this is required everywhere of those who claim to be religious, Isaiah 1:17; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 14:29; Exodus 22:22; Job 29:11-13.
(2)where this disposition to be the real friend of the widow and the orphan exists, there will also exist other corresponding things which go to make up the religious character. This will not stand alone. It will show what the heart is, and prove that it will ever be ready to do good. If a man, from proper motives, is the real friend of the widow and the fatherless, he will be the friend of every good word and work, and we may rely on him in any and every way in doing good.
And to keep himself unspotted from the world - Compare the Romans 12:2 note; James 4:4 note; 1 John 2:15-17 note. That is, religion will keep us from the maxims, vices, and corruptions which prevail in the world, and make us holy. These two things may, in fact, be said to constitute religion. If a man is truly benevolent, he bears the image of that God who is the fountain of benevolence; if he is pure and uncontaminated in his walk and deportment, he also resembles his Maker, for he is holy. If he has not these things, he cannot have any well-founded evidence that he is a Christian; for it is always the nature and tendency of religion to produce these things. It is, therefore, an easy matter for a man to determine whether he has any religion; and equally easy to see that religion is eminently desirable. Who can doubt that that is good which leads to compassion for the poor and the helpless, and which makes the heart and the life pure?
Is this the language of your heart? “I am wholly Thine, my Saviour; Thou hast paid the ransom for my soul, and all that I am or ever hope to be is Thine. Help me to acquire means, not to expend foolishly, not to indulge pride, but to use to Thine own name's glory.” CS 46.1
In all you do, let your thought be, “Is this the way of the Lord? Will this please my Saviour? He gave His life for me; what can I give back to God? I can only say, ‘Of Thine own, O lord, I freely give Thee.’” Unless the name of God is written in your forehead,—written there because God is the center of your thoughts,—you will not be meet for the inheritance in light. It is your Creator who has poured out to you all heaven in one wondrous gift,—His only-begotten Son.... CS 46.2Read in context »
It is not wise to give indiscriminately to everyone who may solicit our aid; for we may thus encourage idleness, intemperance, and extravagance. But if one comes to your door and says he is hungry, do not turn him away empty. Give him something to eat, of such things as you have. You know not his circumstances, and it may be that his poverty is the result of misfortune. CS 163.1
But among all whose needs demand our interest, the widow and the fatherless have the strongest claims upon our tender sympathy and care. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” CS 163.2Read in context »
“Ye have the poor with you always,” Christ said, “and whensoever ye will ye may do them good.” “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Mark 14:7; James 1:27. MH 205.1
In placing among them the helpless and the poor, to be dependent upon their care, Christ tests His professed followers. By our love and service for His needy children we prove the genuineness of our love for Him. To neglect them is to declare ourselves false disciples, strangers to Christ and His love. MH 205.2Read in context »
Pure and undefiled religion is not a sentiment, but the doing of works of mercy and love. This religion is necessary to health and happiness. It enters the polluted soul-temple, and with a scourge drives out the sinful intruders. Taking the throne, it consecrates all by its presence, illuminating the heart with the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness. It opens the windows of the soul heavenward, letting in the sunshine of God's love. With it comes serenity and composure. Physical, mental, and moral strength increase, because the atmosphere of heaven, as a living, active agency, fills the soul. Christ is formed within, the hope of glory.—The Review and Herald, October 15, 1901. MYP 142.1Read in context »