It is a glory pertaining to the Christian religion that it embraces in one community all ranks and degrees of men. It admits of civil distinctions, and honours every one to whom honour is due; but at the house of God all this is required to be laid aside. All are brethren, and no account is made of worldly superiority.
I have been led to these reflections by comparing the words of the apostle James (chap. 1:9, 10) with a passage which I have lately met with in an otherwise admired publication. “Let the brother of low degree,” says the apostle, “rejoice in that he is exalted; but the rich in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.” We see here that joy is the common portion of all believers, whether rich or poor; and that the highest character which either can attain is that of a “brother.” There is, however, some difference in the considerations which are presented for the purpose of inducing joy, according to their different situations in life. The poor brother is supposed to be most in danger of inordinate dejection; and therefore, as a proper antidote, he must rejoice in being “exalted.” The rich, on the other hand, is most in danger of being lifted up with his situation; he must, therefore, rejoice in his being “made low.” The adaptedness of the means to the end, in the former instance, is easily conceived; but there seems to be something a little paradoxical in the latter. Let us examine them.
The poor brother’s part, by which he is taught to rejoice in adversity, is one in which every Christian heart will rejoice with him. A state of poverty, viewed by itself, is both chilling and cheerless. Nature revolts at it. A lowly habitation, a dry and scanty morsel, mean attire, hard labour, and the want of respect among men, are things which cannot be agreeable. If all were alike, it would be somewhat different; but the poor man is affected by the disparity between his condition and that of others. Plenty daily passes by his door; but he scarcely tastes it. If the fig-tree blossom, it is not for him; there is no fruit on his vine, nor flock in his fold, nor herd in his stall. But, “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted.” Come hither, poor man, says the gospel; art thou but withal a Christian? here is a feast for thee. Although thy fig-tree blossom not, and there be no fruit on thy vine, nor flock in thy fold, nor herd in thy stall; yet mayst thou rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of thy salvation! Say not, I am a dry tree; God hath given thee an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Art thou a servant? care not for it; thou art the Lord’s free-man. To be an heir of God, a joint heir with Christ, a son or daughter of the Lord God Almighty, a fellow citizen with the saints, is an honour which princes might envy! Nor is it altogether in hope. As there is a meanness in sin which renders the character of the sinner, in spite of all his efforts and pretences, contemptible even in his own eyes; so there is a dignity in uprightness which ennobles the mind, whatever be its outward circumstances. This it was imboldened the prisoner, while the want of it caused the judge to tremble, Acts 24:25.
That, on the other hand, which is addressed to the rich brother is no less appropriate. He is directed to rejoice, and we should think with good reason, inasmuch as his enjoyment lies in both worlds; but this is not the ground of it. And though he is, in common with his poor brother, interested in gospel privileges, yet they are not here introduced; but something more suited to counteract that spirit of high-mindedness of which the rich are especially in danger. He is directed to “rejoice in that he is made low.” He must not value himself on any thing of a worldly nature, because “as the flower of the grass he shall,” in that respect, ‘pass away.” Rather let him rejoice that he has been humbled, and taught, like Moses, to prefer affliction with the people of God to the pleasures of sin for a season. It is true this is rejoicing in what the world accounts a disgrace; but such was the joy of all who gloried in the cross of Christ. Whatever the world may think, there is a solid reason for the opulent Christian to rejoice in his being made low; for it is a being led to think justly and soberly of himself as he ought to think, and enabled to withdraw his dependence from those deceitful enjoyments which will quickly “fade like the grass before the scorching sun.” It will tend also to heighten his joy, if he compare his case with that of the generality of rich men, who are put off with the present world as their only portion. “Not many” of this description “are called.” It is therefore matter of thankfulness to any who are singled out by Divine grace from their companions.
Christianity is far from promoting a levelling spirit in one sense of the term; but it is its professed object in another. “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low.” In all that Christ and his apostles have done to propagate it, they have made no account of those things which men are apt to set a value upon. Had human wisdom been consulted, the first object would have been to convert those who, on account of office, rank, fortune, or talents, had the greatest influence upon others; and who, by throwing their weight into the Christian scale, would have easily caused it to preponderate. But though some of this description are to be found among the primitive Christians, yet they appear to have taken no leading part among them; nor is the success of the gospel ever ascribed to their influence. But, descending from their former heights, they took their place among the brethren, rejoicing that they were made low.
You are ready to ask, What of this? And what is the passage you have been comparing with it? It is as follows:—“Greatly as I wish the reform of principles, and the suppression of vice, I am not sanguine in my expectations of either event, while rank, and station, and wealth throw their mighty influence into the opposite scale. Then, and not till then, will Christianity obtain the dominion she deserves, when the makers of our manners shall submit to her authority, and the people of fashion become the people of God.”
Christianity, to be sure, will never obtain the dominion she deserves while any class of society continues to set her at nought; but if its scale should be made at last to preponderate by the mighty influence of rank, and station, and wealth being thrown into it, things must proceed on very different principles from what they have done. If I had no hope of Christianity obtaining the dominion “till then,” I should have little or no hope at all: for though God is able to turn them, as well as others, to himself, yet it is not his usual way of working in order to promote his own cause. Is it not much too great a compliment to pay to men of rank and fashion, to suppose that Christianity will never prevail till it receives “their mighty influence?” Ought they not rather to be told that, if they decline to engage on her side, the consequence will only affect themselves? “Deliverance will arise” from another quarter, and God will cause his name to triumph without them! According to all that has hitherto appeared, and all that we are taught in the Scriptures to expect, the people of fashion will be the last that shall enter into Christ’s kingdom; and, when they do enter, it will not be to take the lead, but as rejoicing that they are made low.
FuFuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 800–802). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.