James 4:15 – “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.“
At what depth should our wills in the actions of our lives be submitted to our God if we claim Him to be so? What does it mean to truly submit our lives in what we do to Him?
Puritan Thomas Manton in his superb work “A Practical Commentary, or an Exposition with Notes, on the Epistle of James” takes a deep and detailed look into what it means to submit the actions of our lives to God.
You can listen to all of verse 15 here:
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The entire book is available here: https://ia800904.us.archive.org/2/items/apracticalcomme01mantgoog/apracticalcomme01mantgoog.pdf#page=375, and this section starts on PDF page 379 (in the print, page 360), or you can get it in other formats here…
…or you can listen to the entire book on this page:
Thomas Manton – James Commentary
From Thomas Manton:
Verse 15. – For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
Observation. All our undertakings must be referred to the will of God; not only sacred, but civil actions. Our journeys must not be undertaken without asking his leave; as Jacob, “O Lord God of Abraham thy servant, send me good speed this day” (Gen. xxviii. 20, and xxiv. 12). No wonder, if this be neglected, that you meet with so many cross accidents; they do not come from your hard luck, but your profane neglect.
But what is it to submit all our actions to the will of God? I answer,
1. To measure all our actions by his revealed will [the Bible], that is the rule of duty. We can look for no blessing but upon those ways that suit with it. There must be a submission to his secret will, but first a conformity to his revealed will. Lust [generally, any corrupt desire of the heart] has its wills (Eph. ii. 2); but we are to serve the will of God till we fall asleep (Acts xiii 36).
2. We must the more comfortably undertake any action, when we see God in it. Acts xvi. 10, he gathered that God had called him to Macedonia: so, when we see God in the sweet means and course of his providence, or by inward instinct guiding and leading us, we may with more encouragement walk in the way that he hath opened to us.
3. When in our desires and requests we do not [try to] bind [constrain] the counsels of God; [we should say] “Not my will, but thine be done” (Matt. xxvi. 39). In temporal things we must submit to God’s will both for the mercy, the means, and time of attainment. Creatures that cannot ascribe to themselves, must not prescribe to God, and give laws to Providence, but must be content to want [lack], or have, as the Lord pleases. If any thing succeed not well, the Lord would not [wills it not to be]; that is enough to silence all discontents [discontentment].
4. We must constantly ask his leave in prayer, as before was urged.
5. We must still reserve the power of God’s providence. If the Lord will. If the Lord permit: God would not have us too carnally confident; it is good to inure the soul to changes. Two things we should often consider to this purpose, and they are both in the text:
(1st.) The sovereignty and dominion of Providence: the Lord can blast your enterprise, though managed with never so much wisdom and contrivance [of our own]; he can nip it in the bud, or check it in the very article of execution: and I have observed, that usually God is very tender of his honour in this point, and usually frustrates proud men that boast of what they will do, and conceive unlimited purposes, without any thought of the check they may receive in Providence.
It is a flower of the imperial crown of heaven, and the bridle that God hath upon the reasonable creature, to dispose of the success of human affairs; therefore herein God will be acknowledged: “A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps” (Prov. xvi. 9). Man designs, but the execution depends wholly upon God’s will and providence.
In peremptory resolutions there is a contest between us and Heaven about will and power; therefore, in such cases, the answer of Providence is more express and decisive to the creature’s loss, that God may be acknowledged as Lord of success, and the first mover in all means and causes, without whom they have no force and efficacy.
(2nd.) Consider the frailty and uncertainty of your own lives. Our being is as uncertain as the events of Providence. If we live, and God will, are the exceptions of the text, and do imply that there must be a sensible impression of our own frailty, as well as of the sovereignty of Providence, that the heart may the better submit to God. It is said, “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth, in that very day his thoughts perish” (Psa. cxlvi. 4).
Frail men are full of thoughts and projects; this they will do, and that they will do; go to such a city, promote their interests by such an alliance, gain so much by such a purchase; and then they will raise up some stately fabric which shall continue their name and memory to succeeding generations, and all this because they do not mind the earth which they carry about them, and how soon the hand of Providence is able to crumble it into dust. Certainly man will never be wise, till he is able to number his days, and does sufficiently possess his soul of the uncertainty of his abode in the world (Psa. xc. 12).
Observation. We shall live, and do this or that. Mark! it is not enough that God suffer [allow] us to live, but he must also by the same will suffer [allow] us to do or act. The point is, that God’s will concurs not only to our lives, but actions. We may live, and yet not be able to do any thing for the promotion of our designs: for, if God suspend his concurrence, the creatures cannot act, at least not with any towardliness and success, which quite crosses the doctrine of the heathen philosophers. Seneca said, “That we live, it is by the benefit of the gods; that we live well, it is of ourselves.” So Tully: “This is the judgment of all men, that prosperity is to be sought of God, but wisdom to be gotten by ourselves.”
But in the Scriptures we are taught otherwise, not only to seek success of God, but direction; he gives abilities to perform, and a blessing when the action is finished.
- Without the efficacious [effective], as well as permissive will of God, we can do nothing; he must give us life, and all things necessary to action.
- We must not only look up to him as the author of the success, but the director of the actions.
- It is by his conduct and blessing that all things come to pass.
- Our very counsels and wills are subject to the Divine government, and he can turn them as it pleaseth him (Prov. xxi. 1);
and therefore we must not only commit our ways to his providence, but commend our hearts to the tuition of his Spirit. In short, all things are done by bis will, and must be ascribed to his praise.
May God grant that we indeed see our frailty, His greatness, His supremacy in all things, His worthiness to be submitted to, His lovingkindness in His dealings with us, and may He grant that we be full of thankfulness at all times, especially if by His graces and mercies we have the Lord Christ Jesus as our own!