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James - An Exposition, with Practical Observations, of The General Epistle of James
The writer of this epistle was not James the son of Zebedee; for he was put to death by Herod (Acts 12) before Christianity had gained so much ground among the Jews of the dispersion as is here implied. But it was the other James, the son of Alpheus, who was cousin-german to Christ, and one of the twelve apostles, Mat. 10:3. He is called a pillar (Gal. 2:9), and this epistle of his cannot be disputed, without loosening a foundation-stone. It is called a general epistle, because (as some think) not directed to any particular person or church, but such a one as we call a circular letter. Others think it is called general, or catholic, to distinguish it from the epistles of Ignatius, Barnabas, Polycarp, and others who were noted in the primitive times, but not generally received in the church, and on that account not canonical, as this is. Eusebius tells us that this epistle was “generally read in the churches with the other catholic epistles.” His. Eccles. page 53. Ed. Val. Anno 1678. James, our author, was called the just, for his great piety. He was an eminent example of those graces which he presses upon others. He was so exceedingly revered for his justice, temperance, and devotion, that Josephus the Jewish historian records it as one of the causes of the destruction of Jerusalem, “That St. James was martyred in it.” This is mentioned in hopes of procuring the greater regard to what is penned by so holy and excellent a man. The time when this epistle was written is uncertain. The design of it is to reprove Christians for their great degeneracy both in faith and manners, and to prevent the spreading of those libertine doctrines which threatened the destruction of all practical godliness. It was also a special intention of the author of this epistle to awaken the Jewish nation to a sense of the greatness and nearness of those judgments which were coming upon them; and to support all true Christians in the way of their duty, under the calamities and persecutions they might meet with. The truths laid down are very momentous, and necessary to be maintained; and the rules for practice, as here stated, are such as ought to be observed in our times as well as in preceding ages. — Henry
James - INTRODUCTION TO THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JAMES.
This epistle stands first in order of seven which have been called "General," from a very early period, because of the fact that they were not addressed, like those of Paul, to particular churches or individuals, in most cases, but to the churches generally. This is directed to "the Twelve Tribes of the Dispersion," a dedication which shows that it was designed for the instruction of Jewish Christians scattered abroad among the Gentile countries. It was particularly appropriate that the man who is shown by the Acts of the Apostles and by the Galatian letter to have attained the highest influence in the churches of Judea should show his profound interest in the Christians of the Hebrew race by addressing this letter to the multitudes of kindred who had their homes in foreign lands.
Yet there has been some dispute about the personality of the James who wrote this letter. There are three distinguished disciples which bear that name: James, the brother of John, one of the sons of Zebedee, one of the Twelve; James, the son of Alphæus, also an apostle, called James the Less (Mark. 15:40); and James, called by Paul in Galatians "the brother of our Lord," the man who appears in Acts, chapter 15, as wielding a pre-eminent influence in the church at Jerusalem. The epistle could not have been written by James, the brother of John, as he was slain by Herod (Acts 12:2) before its date. The authorship must be ascribed either to James, the son of Alphæus, or to James, "the Lord's brother."
From the earliest ages the latter has been agreed upon as the writer. To this conclusion all the known facts point. He was a permanent resident of Jerusalem, and pre-eminent in the church; he seems to be the chief figure in "the Council of Jerusalem" described in Acts, chapter 15; he was one of the pillars of the church (Gal. 2:9); hence he could speak authoritatively to the Jewish Christians scattered abroad. It has, however, been held by many that he is the same as James, the son of Alphæus, and a cousin of Christ, instead of a brother. The argument in favor of this hypothesis is ingenious. (1.) It is held that Mary never bore any children but Jesus, and hence that "the brethren of the Lord" were her nephews. (2.) That Mary, the wife of Clopas (Jn. 19:25) was sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. (3.) That Alphæus and Clopas are different forms of the same name. (4.) That the brethren of Jesus, "James and Joses and Simon and Judas," were the cousins of Jesus, and that at least two, James and Judas, were apostles (5.) This is supported by the fact that Jesus on the cross commits the care of his mother to John, which is held to prove that she could have no other sons.
In answer to this theory it may be said that (1.) it is improbable that the wife of Clopas was sister to Mary, a fact which would require two sisters to be of the same name. John names two pairs, Mary and her sister, and Mary, the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. The sister was no doubt Salome, the mother of John, named as one of the four women in the other gospels, and whom John omits to name from the same motives which prevented him from ever naming himself. Hence John was the nephew of Mary, and this in connection with the fact that the brethren of Jesus were not then believers is sufficient explanation of John being assigned the duty of caring for the mother of Jesus. (2.) We are told positively that the brethren of Jesus were not believers, and this, too, in the closing portion of the last year of our Lord's ministry, a fact that clearly shows that none of these could have been of the number of the apostles. (3.) They are never called cousins of Jesus nor is there any proof that the Greek word which designates them as "brethren" is ever used in the sense of cousins in the New Testament. (4.) When these brethren had become believers, after the resurrection, they are distinguished from the Twelve (Acts 1:14; 1Co. 9:5), a fact which cannot be explained if at least two of the four were of the Twelve. It is true that in Gal. 1:19 James is spoken of as an apostle, yet neither he nor Paul, the greatest of the apostles, was of the Twelve. These facts seem to me to clearly indicate that "James, the brother of the Lord," the author of this epistle, was not of the Twelve, and was a brother to the Lord Jesus in the sense that he was a child of Mary.
His prominence, however, in the early church may be gathered from the following references: Acts 12:17; Acts 15:19; Acts 21:18; Gal. 1:19; Gal. 2:9; Gal. 2:12. The New Testament is silent concerning his later history, but Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that shortly before the war that ended in the destruction of Jerusalem, about A. D. 63, "Ananias, the high priest, assembled the Sanhedrim, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who is called the Christ, whose name was James, and some of his companions * * and delivered them to be stoned" (Antiq. xx. 9:1). He was allowed to remain until not long before the overthrow of the Jewish state, and was then removed. Though not requiring the Gentile Christians to obey the law, he continued to teach its observance to the Jewish Christians, and to regard Christianity not so much the overthrow of the old covenant as its fulfillment and perfection. In this respect he did not have a clear vision like Paul but was on this account perhaps the better fitted to lead his own nation to Christ.
The epistle was almost certainly written at Jerusalem, and probably during the last decade of the life of the writer, was addressed to Jewish Christians, is not doctrinal but full of practical instruction in the duties of life. There was some discussion among the Fathers whether it was entitled to a place in the Canon, but those doubts have mainly passed away. — PNT
James - The General Epistle Of James
Section 1. The Question: Who Was the Author of this Epistle?
There have been more difficult questions raised in regard to the Epistle of James than perhaps any other portion of the New Testament. Those questions it is of importance to examine as fully as is consistent with the design of these notes; that is, so far as to enable a candid inquirer to see what is the real difficulty in the case, and what is, so far as can be ascertained, the truth.
The first question is, Who was the author? It has been attributed to one of three persons: to James “the elder,” the son of Zebedee, and brother of John; to James “the less,” son of Alphaeus or Cleophas; and to a James of whom nothing more is known. Some have supposed, also, that the James who is mentioned as the “Lord’s brother,” Gal. 1:19, was a different person from James, the son of Alphaeus.
There are no methods of determining this point from the Epistle itself. All that can be established from the Epistle is:
(1) that the name of the author was James, Jam. 1:1
(2) that he professed to be a “servant of God,” Jam. 1:1
(3) that he had been probably a Jew, and sustained such a relation to those to whom he wrote, as to make it proper for him to address them with authority; and,
(4) that he was a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, Jam. 2:1; Jam. 5:8
There are two persons, if not three, of the name of James, mentioned in the New Testament. The one is James, the son of Zebedee, Mat. 4:21; Mark 3:17; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13, et al. He was the brother of John, and is usually mentioned in connection with him; Mat. 4:21; Mat. 17:1; Mark 5:37; Mark 13:3, et al. The name of their mother was Salome. Compare Mat. 27:56, with Mark 15:40. He was put to death by Herod Agrippa, about 41 a.d. Acts 12:2. He was called the major, or the elder - to distinguish him from the other James, the younger, or the less, Mark 15:40; called also, in ancient history, James the Just.
The other James was a son of Alphaeus or Cleophas; Mat. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Acts 1:13; Luke 24:18. That Alphaeus and Cleophas was the same person is evident from the fact that both the words are derived from the Hebrew הלפי h-l-p-y. The name of the mother of this James was Mary, Mark 15:40; and James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas, are mentioned as brethren; Mat. 13:55. There is also a James mentioned in Mat. 13:55; Mark 6:3; and Gal. 1:19, as a “brother of our Lord.” On the meaning of this expression, see the notes at Gal. 1:19
It has been a question which has been agitated from the earliest times, whether the James who is mentioned as the son of Alphaeus, and the James who is mentioned as the “Lord’s brother,” were the same or different persons. It is not necessary for the purposes of these notes to go into an examination of this question. Those who are disposed to see it pursued, may consult Hug’s Introduction, Section 158, and the works there referred to; Neander’s History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church, vol. ii. p. 2, following, Edin. Ed.; and Michaelis’ Introduction, vol. iv. 271, following. The question, says Neander, is one of the most difficult in the apostolic history. Hug supposes that James the son of Alphaeus, and James the brother of the Lord, were the same. Neander supposes that the James mentioned by the title of the “Lord’s brother” was a son of Joseph, either by a former marriage, or by Mary, and consequently a “brother” in the stricter sense.
It is remarked by Michaelis, that James may have been called “the Lord’s brother,” or mentioned as one of his brethren, in one of the following senses:
(1) That the persons accounted as the “brethren of the Lord” (Mat. 13:55, et al.) were the sons of Joseph, not by Mary the mother of Jesus, but by a former wife. This, says he, was the most ancient opinion, and there is in it nothing improbable. If so, they were older than Jesus.
(2) it may mean that they were the sons of Joseph by Mary, the mother of Jesus. Compare the notes at Mat. 13:55. If so, James was an own brother of Jesus, but younger than he. There is nothing in this opinion inconsistent with any statement in the Bible; for the notion of the perpetual virginity of Mary is not founded on the authority of the Scriptures. If either of these suppositions were true, however, and James and Judas, the authors of the Epistles which bear their names, were literally the brothers of Christ, it would follow that they were not apostles; for the elder apostle James was the son of Zebedee, and James the younger was the son of Alphaeus.
(3) a third opinion in relation to James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas, is, that they were the sons of Joseph by the widow of a brother who had died without children, and to whom, therefore, Joseph, by the Mosaic laws, was obliged to raise up issue. This opinion, however, is entirely unsupported, and is wholly improbable, because:
(a) the law which obliged the Jews to take their brothers” widows applied only to those who were single (Michaelis); and,
(b) if this had been an instance of that kind, all the requirement of the law in the case would have been satisfied when one heir was born.
(4) it might be maintained that, according to the preceding opinion, the brother of Joseph was Alphaeus, and then they would be reckoned as his sons; and in this case, the James and Judas who are called the brothers of Jesus, would have been the same as the apostles of that name. But, in that case, Alphaeus would not have been the same as Cleopas, for Cleopas had a wife - the sister of Joseph’s wife.
(5) a fifth opinion, and one which was advanced by Jerome, and which has been extensively maintained, is, that the persons referred to were called “brethren” of the Lord Jesus only in a somewhat lax sense, as denoting his near kinsmen. See the notes at Gal. 1:19. According to this, they would have been cousins of the Lord Jesus, and the relationship was of this kind: James and Judas, sons of Alphaeus, were the apostles, and consequently Alphaeus was the father of Simon and Joses. Further, Alphaeus is the same as Cleopas, who married Mary, the sister of the mother of Jesus Jn. 19:25, and, consequently, the sons of Cleopas were cousins of the Saviour.
Which of these opinions is the correct one, it is impossible now to determine. The latter is the common opinion, and perhaps, on the whole, best sustained; and if so, then there were but two Jameses referred to, both apostles, and the one who wrote this Epistle was a cousin of the Lord Jesus. Neander, however, supposes that there were two Jameses besides James the brother of John, the son of Zebedee, and that the one who wrote this Epistle was not the apostle, the son of Alphaeus, but was, in the stricter sense, the “brother” of our Lord, and was trained up with him. History of the Planting of Christianity, ii., p. 3, following.
It is a circumstance of some importance, in showing that there was but one James besides James the brother of John, and that this was the apostle, the son of Alphaeus, that after the death of the elder James Acts 12:1, no mention is made of more than one of that name. If there had been, it is hardly possible, says Hug, that there should not have been some allusion to him. This, however, is not conclusive; for there is no mention of Simon, or Bartholomew, or Thomas after that time.
There is but one serious objection, perhaps, to this theory, which is, that it is said Jn. 7:5 that “his brethren did not believe on him.” It is possible, however, that the word “brethren” in that place may not have included all his kinsmen, but may have had particular reference to the larger portion of them Jn. 7:3, who were not believers, though it might have been that some of them were believers.
On the whole, it seems probable that the James who was the author of this Epistle was one of the apostles of that name, the son of Alphaeus, and that he was a cousin of our Lord. Entire certainty on that point, however, cannot he hoped for.
If the author of this Epistle was a different person from the one who resided at Jerusalem, and who is often mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, then nothing more is known of him. That James was evidently an apostle Gal. 1:19, and perhaps, from his relationship to the Lord Jesus, would have a special influence and authority there.
Of this James, little more is certainly known than what is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. Hegesippus, as quoted by Neander, says, that from childhood he led the life of a Nazarene. He is described by Josephus (Archaeol. xx. 9,) as well as by Hegesippus and Eusebius, as a man eminent for his integrity of life, and as well meriting the appellation or surname which he bore among the Jews, of צדיק tsadiyq, δίκαιος dikaios, “the Just.” He is mentioned as one who set himself against the corruptions of the age, and who was thence termed the bulwark of the people - צפל צם ̀opel ̀am - περιοχη τοῦ λαοῦ periochē tou laou. His manner of life is represented as strict and holy, and such as to command in an eminent degree the confidence of his countrymen, the Jews. Hegesippus says that he frequently prostrated himself on his knees in the Temple, calling on God to forgive the sins of his people, praying that the divine judgments on the unbelievers might be averted, and that they might be led to repentance and faith, and thus to a participation of the kingdom of the glorified Messiah. Neander, as quoted before, p. 10.
In the New Testament, James appears as a prominent and leading man in the church at Jerusalem. In later times he is mentioned by the ecclesiastical writers as “Bishop of Jerusalem;” but this title is not given to him in the New Testament, nor is there any reason to suppose that he filled the office which is now usually denoted by the word bishop. He appears, however, from some cause, to have had his home permanently in Jerusalem, and, for a considerable portion of his life, to have been the only apostle residing there. As such, as well as from his near relationship to the Lord Jesus, and his own personal worth, he was entitled to, and received, marked respect. His prominence, and the respect which was shown to him at Jerusalem, appear in the following circumstances:
(1) In the council that was held respecting the rules that were to be imposed on the converts from the Gentiles, and the manner in which they were to be regarded and treated Acts 15, after the other apostles had fully delivered their sentiments, the views of James were expressed, and his counsel was followed. Acts 15:13-29
(2) when Peter was released from prison, in answer to the prayers of the assembled church, he directed those whom he first saw to “go and show these things to James, and to the brethren.” Acts 12:17
(3) when Paul visited Jerusalem after his conversion, James is twice mentioned by him as occupying a prominent position there. First, Paul says that when he went there on the first occasion, he saw none of the apostles but Peter, and “James the Lord’s brother.” Gal. 1:18-19. He is here mentioned as one of the apostles, and as sustaining a near relation to the Lord Jesus. On the second occasion, when Paul went up there 14 years after, he is mentioned, in enumerating those who gave to him the right hand of fellowship, as one of the “pillars” of the church; and among those who recognized him as an apostle, he is mentioned first. “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship.” Gal. 2:9
(4) when Paul went up to Jerusalem after his visit to Asia Minor and to Greece, the whole matter pertaining to his visit was laid before James, and his counsel was followed by Paul. Acts 21:18-24
The leading points in the character of James seem to have been these:
(1) Incorruptible integrity; integrity such as to secure the confidence of all men, and to deserve the appellation of “the Just.”
(2) an exalted regard for the rites and ceremonies of the ancient religion, and a desire that they should be respected everywhere and honored. He was more slow in coming to the conclusion that they were to be superseded by Christianity than Paul or Peter was (compare Acts 21:18; Gal. 2:12), though he admitted that they were not to be imposed on the Gentile converts as absolutely binding. Acts 15:19-21, Acts 15:24-29. Repeated intimations of his great respect for the laws of Moses are found in the Epistle before us, thus furnishing an internal proof of its genuineness. If he was educated as a Nazarene, and if he always resided with the Jews, in the very vicinity of the Temple, this is not difficult to be accounted for, and this might be expected to tinge his writings.
(3) the point from which he contemplated religion particularly was, conformity to the law. He looked at it as it was intended, to regulate the life, and to produce holiness of deportment, in opposition to all lax views of morals and low conceptions of holiness. He lived in a corrupt age, and among corrupt people; among those who sought to be justified before God by the mere fact that they were Jews, that they had the true religion, and that they were the chosen people of God, and who, in consequence, were lax in their morals, and comparatively regardless of the obligations to personal holiness. He therefore contemplated religion, not so much in respect to the question how man may be justified, as to the question to what kind of life it will lead us; and his great object was to show that personal holiness is necessary to salvation. Paul, on the other hand, was led to contemplate it mainly with reference to another question - how man may be justified; and it became necessary for him to show that men cannot be justified by their own works, but that it must be by faith in the Redeemer. The error which Paul particularly combats, is an error on the subject of justification; the error which James particularly opposes, is a practical error on the influence of religion on the life. It was because religion was contemplated by these two writers from these different points of view, and not from any real contradiction, that the apparent discrepancy arose between the Epistle of James and the writings of Paul. The peculiarity in the character and circumstances of James will account for the views which he took of religion; and, keeping this in mind, it will be easy to show that there is no real contradiction between these writers. It was of great importance to guard against each of the errors referred to; and the views expressed by both of the apostles are necessary to understand the nature and to see the full developement of religion.
How long James lived, and when and how he died, is not certainly known. It is agreed by all that he spent his last days in Jerusalem, and that he probably died there. On the subject of his death there is a remarkable passage in Josephus, which, though its genuineness has been disputed, is worth transcribing, as, if genuine, it shows the respect in which James was held, and contains an interesting account of his death. It is as follows: “The emperor (Roman) being informed of the death of Festus, sent Albinus to be prefect of Judea. But the younger Aranus, who, as we said before, was made high priest, was haughty in his behavior, and was very ambitious. And, moreover, he was of the sect of the Sadducees, who, as we have also observed before, are, above all other Jews, severe in their judicial sentences. This, then, being the temper of Ananus, he, thinking he had a fit opportunity, because Festus was dead, and Albinus was yet on the road, calls a council.
And, bringing before them James, the brother of him who is called Christ, and some others, he accused them as transgressors of the laws, and had them stoned to death. But the most moderate men of the city, who were also reckoned most skillful in the laws, were offended at this proceeding. They therefore sent privately to the king (Agrippa the younger), entreating him to send orders to Ananus no more to attempt any such things.” - Ant., B. xx. A long account of the manner of his death, by Hegesippus, is preserved in Eusebius, going much more into detail, and evidently introducing much that is fabulous. The amount of all that can now be known in regard to his decease would seem to be, that he was put to death by violence in Jerusalem, a short time before the destruction of the Temple. From the well-known character of the Jews, this account is by no means improbable. On the subject of his life and death, the reader may find all that is known in Lardner’s Works, vol. vi. pp. 162-195; Bacon’s Lives of the Apostles, pp. 411-433; and Neander, History of the Planting of the Christian Church, ii., pp. 1-23, Edin. Ed.
The belief that it was this James, the son of Alphaeus, who resided so long at Jerusalem, who was the author of this Epistle, has been the common, though not the unanimous opinion of the Christian church, and seems to be supported by satisfactory arguments. It must evidently have been written either by him or by James the elder, the son of Zebedee, or by some other James, the supposed literal brother of our Lord.
In regard to these opinions, we may observe:
I. That the supposition that it was written by some third one of that name, “wholly unknown to fame,” is mere hypothesis. It has no evidence whatever in its support.
II. There are strong reasons for supposing that it was not written by James the elder, the son of Zebedee, and brother of John. It has been indeed ascribed to him. In the old Syriac version, in the earlier editions, it is expressly attributed to him. But against this opinion the following objections may be urged, which seem to be conclusive.
(1) James the elder was beheaded about the year 43 or 44 a.d., and if this Epistle was written by him, it is the oldest of the writings of the New Testament. It is possible, indeed, that the Epistle may have been written at as early a period as that, but the considerations which remain to be stated, will show that this Epistle has sufficient internal marks to prove that it was of later origin.
(2) before the death of James the elder, the preaching of the gospel was chiefly confined within the limits of Palestine; but this Epistle was written to Christians “of the dispersion,” that is, to those who resided out of Palestine. It is hardly credible that in so short a time after the ascension of our Lord, there were so many Christians scattered abroad as to make it probable that a letter would be sent to them.
(3) this Epistle is occupied very much with a consideration of a false and perverted view of the doctrine of justification by faith. It is evident that false views on that subject prevailed, and that a considerable corruption of morals was the consequence. But this supposes that the doctrine of justification by faith had been extensively preached; consequently that considerable time had elapsed from the time when the doctrine had been first promulgated. The perversion of a doctrine, so as to produce injurious effects, seldom occurs until some time after the doctrine was first preached, and it can hardly be supposed that this would have occurred before the death of James, the son of Zebedee. See these reasons stated more at length in Benson.
III. There are strong probabilities, from the Epistle itself, to show that it was written by James the Less.
(1) his position at Jerusalem, and his eminence among the apostles, as well as his established character, made it proper that he should address such an epistle to those who were scattered abroad. There was no one among the apostles who would command greater respect from those abroad who were of Jewish origin than James. If he had his residence at Jerusalem; if he was in any manner regarded as the head of the church there; if he sustained a near relation to the Lord Jesus; and if his character was such as has been commonly represented, there was no one among the apostles whose opinions would be treated with greater respect, or who would be considered as having a clearer right to address those who were scattered abroad.
(2) the character of the Epistle accords with the well-known character of James the Less. His strong regard for the law; his zeal for incorruptible integrity; his opposition to lax notions of morals; his opposition to all reliance on faith that was not productive of good works, all appear in this Epistle. The necessity of conformity to the law of God, and of a holy life, is everywhere apparent, and the views expressed in the Epistle agree with all that is stated of the early education and the established character of James. While there is no real contradiction between this Epistle and the writings of Paul, yet it is much easier to show that this is a production of James than it would be to prove that it was written by Paul. Compare Hug, Introduction, Section 159.
Section 2. To Whom Was the Epistle Written?
The Epistle purports to have been written to the “twelve tribes scattered abroad” - or the “twelve tribes of the dispersion” - ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ en tē diaspora, Jam. 1:1. See the 1Pe. 1:1 note, and the Jam. 1:1 note. No mention of the place where they resided is made; nor can it be determined to what portion of the world it was first sent, or whether more than one was sent. All that can be conclusively determined in regard to the persons to whom it was addressed, is:
(1) that they were of Jewish descent - as is implied in the phrase “to the twelve tribes” Jam. 1:1, and as is manifest in all the reasonings of the Epistle; and,
(2) that they were Christian converts, Jam. 2:1.
But by whose labors they were converted, is wholly unknown. The Jewish people who were “scattered abroad” had two central points of union, the dispersion in the East, of which Babylon was the head, and the dispersion in the West, of which Alexandria was the head, Hug. Section 156. Peter wrote his Epistles to the latter 1Pe. 1:1, though he was at Babylon when he wrote them 1Pe. 5:13, and it would seem probable that this Epistle was addressed to the former. Beza supposed that this Epistle was sent to the believing Jews, dispersed all over the world; Grotius, that it was written to all the Jews living out of Judea; Lardner, that it was written to all Jews, descendants of Jacob, of every denomination, in Judea, and out of it. It seems plain, however, from the Epistle itself, that it was not addressed to the Jews as such, or without respect to their being already Christians, for:
(a) if it had been, it is hardly conceivable that there should have been no arguments to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, and no extended statements of the nature of the Christian system; and,
(b) it bears on the face of it evidence of having been addressed to those who were regarded as Christians; Jam. 2:1; Jam. 5:7, Jam. 5:11, Jam. 5:14.
It may be difficult to account for the fact, on any principles, that there are no more definite allusions to the nature of the Christian doctrines in the Epistle, but it is morally certain that if it had been written to Jews as such, by a Christian apostle, there would have been a more formal defense and statement of the Christian religion. Compare the arguments of the apostles with the Jews in the Acts , passim. I regard the Epistle, therefore, as having been sent to those who were of Jewish origin, but who had embraced the Christian faith by one who had been himself a Jew, and who, though now a Christian apostle, retained much of his early habits of thinking and reasoning in addressing his own countrymen.
Section 3. Where and When Was the Epistle Written?
There are no certain indications by which it can be determined where this Epistle was written, but if the considerations above suggested are well founded, there can be little doubt that it was at Jerusalem. There are indeed certain internal marks, as Hug has observed (Introduction, Section 155), pertaining to the country with which the writer was familiar, and to certain features of natural scenery incidentally alluded to in the Epistle. Thus, his native land was situated not far from the sea Jam. 1:6; Jam. 3:4; it was blessed with valuable productions, as figs, oil, and wine Jam. 3:12; there were springs of saline and fresh water with which he was familiar Jam. 3:11; the land was much exposed to drought, and there were frequently reasons to apprehend famine from the want of rain Jam. 5:17, Jam. 5:18 there were sad devastations produced, and to be dreaded, from a consuming, burning wind Jam. 1:11; and it was a land in which the phenomena known as “early and latter rains” were familiarly understood; Jam. 5:7. All these allusions apply well to Palestine, and were such as would be employed by one who resided in that country, and they may be regarded as an incidental proof that the Epistle was written in that land,
There is no way of determining with certainty when the Epistle was written. Hug supposes that it was after the Epistle to the Hebrews, and not before the beginning of the 10th year of Nero, nor after the accession of Albinus; i. e., the close of the same year. Mill and Fabricius suppose it was before the destruction of Jerusalem, and about a year and a half before the death of James. Lardner supposes that James was put to death about the year 62 a.d., and that this Epistle was written about a year before. He supposes also that his death was hastened by the strong language of reprehension employed in the Epistle. It is probable that the year in which it was written was not far from 58 or 60 a.d., some 10 or 12 years before the destruction of Jerusalem.
Section 4. The Canonical Authority of the Epistle
On the question generally respecting the canonical authority of the disputed Epistles, see the Introduction to the Catholic Epistles, Section 2. The particular proof of the canonical authority of this Epistle is contained in the evidence that it was written by one of the apostles. If it was written, as suggested above (Section 1), by James the Less, or if it be supposed that it was written by James the elder, both of whom were apostles, its canonical authority will be admitted. As there is no evidence that it was written by any other James, the point seems to be clear.
But there are additional considerations, derived from its reception in the church, which may furnish some degree of confirmation of its authority. These are:
(a) It was included in the old Syriac version, the Peshita, made either in the first century or in the early part of the second, thus showing that it was recognized in the country to which it was probably sent;
(b) Ephrem the Syrian, in his Greek works, made use of it in many places, and attributed it to James, the brother of our Lord (Hug);
(c) It is quoted as of authority by several of the Fathers; by Clement of Rome, who does not indeed mention the name of the writer, but quotes the words of the Epistle Jam. 3:13; Jam. 4:6, Jam. 4:11; Jam. 2:21, Jam. 2:23; by Hermas; and by Jerome. See Lardner, vol. vi. pp. 195-199, and Hug, Section 161.
Section 5. The Evidence that the Writer Was Acquainted with the Writings of Paul; the Alleged Contradiction between Them; and the Question How They Can Be Reconciled
It has been frequently supposed, and sometimes affirmed, that this Epistle is directly contradictory to Paul on the great doctrine of justification, and that it was written to counteract the tendency of his writings on that subject. Thus Hug strangely says, “In this Epistle, Paul is (if I may be allowed to use so harsh an expression for a while) contradicted so flatly, that it would seem to have been written in opposition to some of his doctrines and opinions.” Section 157. It is of importance, therefore, to inquire into the foundation of this charge, for if it be so, it is clear that either this Epistle or those of Paul would not be entitled to a place in the sacred canon. In order to this investigation, it is necessary to inquire to what extent the author was acquainted with the writings of Paul, and then to ask whether the statements of James are susceptible of any explanation which will reconcile them with those of Paul.
(1) there is undoubted evidence that the author was acquainted with the writings of Paul. This evidence is found in the similarity of the expressions occurring in the Epistles of Paul and James; a similarity such as would occur not merely from the fact that two men were writing on the same subject, but such as occurs only where one is acquainted with the writings of the other. Between two persons writing on the same subject, and resting their opinions on the same general reasons, there might be indeed a general resemblance, and possibly there might be expressions used which would be precisely the same. But it might happen that the resemblance would be so minute and particular, and on points where there could be naturally no such similarity, as to demonstrate that one of the writers was familiar with the productions of the other. For example, a man writing on a religious subject, if he had never heard of the Bible, might use expressions coincident with some that are found there; but it is clear also that he might in so many cases use the same expressions which occur there, and on points where the statements in the Bible are so peculiar, as to show conclusively that he was familiar with that book. So also a man might show that he was familiar with the Rambler or the Spectator, with Shakespeare or Milton. Such, it is supposed, are the allusions in the Epistle of James, showing that he was acquainted with the writings of Paul. Among these passages are the following:
Jam. 1:2 “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.”
Rom. 5:3 “We glory in tribulations also.”
Jam. 1:3 “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”
Rom. 5:3 “Knowing that tribulation worketh patience.”
Jam. 1:4 “Wanting nothing.”
1Co. 1:7 “Ye come behind in no gift.”
Jam. 1:6 “He that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed.”
Eph. 4:14 “Tossed to and fro, carried about with every wind of doctrine.”
Jam. 1:12 “When he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life ...”
2Ti. 4:8 “There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.”
Jam. 1:15 “When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”
Rom. 7:7-8 “I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.”
Jam. 1:18 “That we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.”
Rom. 8:23 “Ourselves also which have the first-fruits of the Spirit.”
Jam. 1:21 “Lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness”, etc.
Col. 3:8 “But now ye also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communications out of your mouth.”
Jam. 1:22 “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only”, etc.
Rom. 2:13 “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law.”
Jam. 2:5 “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith”, etc.
1Co. 1:27 “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise”, etc.
Compare also, on this subject, the passage in Jam. 5:14-16, with Rom. 3:20 ff; the examples of Abraham and Rahab, referred to in Jam. 2:21, Jam. 2:25, with the reference to Abraham in Rom. 4; and Jam. 4:12, with Rom. 2:1; Rom. 14:4
These passages will show that James had an acquaintance with the writings of Paul, and that he was familiar with his usual method of expressing his thoughts. These allusions are not such as two men would be likely to make who were total strangers to each other’s mode of speaking and of writing.
It may be added here, also, that some critics have supposed that there is another kind of evidence that James was acquainted with the writings of Paul, than that which arises from mere similarity of expression, and that he meant to refer to him, with a view to correct the influence of some of his views. Thus, Hug, in the passage already referred to (Section 157), says, “In this Epistle, the apostle Paul is (if I may be allowed to use so harsh an expression for a while) contradicted so flatly, that it would seem to have been written in opposition to some of his doctrines and opinions. All that Paul has taught respecting faith, its efficacy in justification, and the inutility of works, is here directly contravened.” After citing examples from the Epistle to the Romans, and the Epistle of James, in support of this, Hug adds, “The Epistle was therefore written of set purpose against Paul, against the doctrine that faith procures man justification and the divine favor.” The contradiction between James and Paul appeared so palpable to Luther, and the difficulty of reconciling them seemed to him to be so great, that for a long time he rejected the Epistle of James altogether. He subsequently, however, became satisfied that it was a part of the inspired canon of Scripture.
(2) it has been, therefore, an object of much solicitude to know how the views of Paul and James, apparently so contradictory, can be reconciled; and many attempts have been made to do it. Those who wish to pursue this inquiry to greater length than is consistent with the design of these notes, may consult Neander’s History of the Planting of the Christian Church, vol. ii., pp. 1-23, 228-239, and Dr. Dwight’s Theology, serm. lxviii. The particular consideration of this pertains more appropriately to the exposition of the Epistle (see the remarks at the close of James 3); but a few general principles may be laid down here, which may aid those who are disposed to make the comparison between the two, and which may show that there is no designed, and no real contradiction.
(a) The view which is taken of any object depends much on the point of vision from which it is beheld - the stand-point, as the Germans say; and in order to estimate the truthfulness or value of a description or a picture, it is necessary for us to place ourselves in the same position with him who has given the description, or who has made the picture. Two men, painting or describing a mountain, a valley, a waterfall, or an edifice, might take such different positions in regard to it, that the descriptions which they give would seem to be quite contradictory and irreconcilable, unless this were taken into the account. A landscape, sketched from the top of a high tower or on a level plain; a view of Niagara Falls, taken above or below the falls - on the American or Canada side; a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, taken from one side or another, from the dome or when on the ground, might be very different; and two such views might present features which it would be scarcely possible to reconcile with each other. So it is of moral subjects. Much depends on the point from which they are viewed, and from the bearings and tendencies of the doctrine which is the particular subject of contemplation. The subject of temperance, for example, may be contemplated with reference, on the one hand, to the dangers arising from too lax a view of the matter, or, on the other, to the danger of pressing the principle too far; and in order to know a man’s views, and not to do injustice to him, it is proper to understand the particular aspect in which he looked at it, and the particular object which he had in view.
(b) The object of Paul - the “stand-point” from which he viewed the subject of justification - on which point alone it has been supposed that he and James differ - was to show that there is no justification before God, except by faith; that the meritorious cause of justification is the atonement; that good works do not enter into the question of justification as a matter of merit, or as the ground of acceptance; that if it were not for faith in Christ, it would not be possible for man to be justified. The point which he opposes is, that men can be justified by good works, by conformity to the law, by dependence on rites and ceremonies, by birth or blood. The aim of Paul is not to demonstrate that good works are not necessary or desirable in religion, but that they are not the ground of justification. The point of view in which he contemplates man, is before he is converted, and with reference to the question on what ground he can be justified: and he affirms that it is only by faith, and that good works come in for no share in justification, as a ground of merit.
(c) The object of James - the “stand-point” from which he viewed the subject - was, to show that a man cannot have evidence that he is justified, or that his faith is genuine, unless he is characterized by good works, or by holy living. His aim is to show, not that faith is not essential to justification, and not that the real ground of dependence is not the merit of the Saviour, but that conformity to the law of God is indispensable to true religion. The point of view in which he contemplates the subject, is after a man professes to be justified, and with reference to the question whether his faith is genuine; and he affirms that no faith is of value in justification but that which is productive of good works. By his own character, by education, by the habits of his whole life, he was accustomed to look on religion as obedience to the will of God; and everything in his character led him to oppose all that was lax in principle, and loose in tendency, in religion.
The point which he opposed, therefore, was, that mere faith in religion, as a revelation from God; a mere assent to certain doctrines, without a corresponding life, could be a ground of justification before God. This was the prevalent error of his countrymen; and while the Jews held to the belief of divine revelation as a matter of speculative faith, the most lax views of morals prevailed, and they freely indulged in practices entirely inconsistent with true piety, and subversive of all proper views of religion. It was not improper, therefore, as Paul had given prominence to one aspect of the doctrine of justification, showing that a man could not be saved by dependence on the works of the law, but that it must be by the work of Christ, that James should give due prominence to the other form of the doctrine, by showing that the essential and necessary tendency of the true doctrine of justification was to lead to a holy life; and that a man whose life was not conformed to the law of God, could not depend on any mere assent to the truth of religion, or any speculative faith whatever. Both these statements are necessary to a full exposition of the doctrine of justification; both are opposed to dangerous errors; and both, therefore, are essential in order to a full understanding of that important subject.
(d) Both these statements are true:
(1) That of Paul is true, that there can be no justification before God on the ground of our own works, but that the real ground of justification is faith in the great sacrifice made for sin.
(2) that of James is no less true, that there can be no genuine faith which is not productive of good works, and that good works furnish the evidence that we have true religion, and are just before God. A mere faith; a naked assent to dogmas, accompanied with lax views of morals, can furnish no evidence of true piety. It is as true, that where there is not a holy life there is no religion, as it is in cases where there is no faith.
It may be added, therefore, that the Epistle of James occupies an important place in the New Testament, and that it could not be withdrawn without materially marring the proportions of the scheme of religion which is there revealed. Instead, therefore, of being regarded as contradictory to any part of the New Testament, it should rather be deemed indispensable to the concinnity and beauty of the whole.
Keeping in view, therefore, the general design of the Epistle, and the point of view from which James contemplated the subject of religion; the general corruptions of the age in which he lived, in regard to morals; the tendency of the Jews to suppose that mere assent to the truths of religion was enough to save them; the liability which there was to abuse the doctrine of Paul on the subject of justification - it will not be difficult to understand the general drift of this Epistle, or to appreciate its value. A summary of its contents, and a more particular view of its design, will be found in the “Analyses” prefixed to the several chapters. — Barnes TOC
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. Acts 8:1; 1Pet 1:1;
2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Matt 5:11; Rom 5:3; 1Pet 1:6; 3 Knowing [this], that the trying of your faith worketh patience. Rom 5:3; 1Pet 1:7; 4 But let patience have [her] perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. 5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all [men] liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. Prov 2:3; Jer 29:12; Matt 7:7; Matt 21:22; Mark 11:24; John 16:24; 1John 3:22; 1John 5:14; 6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. 7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. 8 A double minded man [is] unstable in all his ways. 9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: 10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. 11 For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways. Isa 40:6; 1Cor 7:31; Jas 4:14; 1Pet 1:24; 1John 2:17; 12 Blessed [is] the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. Job 5:17; 2Tim 4:8; 1Pet 5:4; Rev 2:10; Matt 10:22; Matt 19:28-29;
13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. 16 Do not err, my beloved brethren. 17 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. Prov 2:6; 1Cor 4:7; Isa 14:27; Isa 46:10; Mal 3:6; Rom 11:29; 18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. 1Cor 4:15; Gal 4:19; 1Pet 1:23;
19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: Prov 17:27; Eccl 5:2; 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. 21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. Rom 13:12; Col 3:8; 22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. Matt 7:21; Luke 11:28; Rom 2:13; 1John 3:7; 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: Luke 6:47; 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth [therein], he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. Matt 5:19; 26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion [is] vain. Ps 34:13; Jas 3:6; 1Pet 3:10; 27 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. TOC
James, a servant of God - For an account of this person, or rather for the conjectures concerning him, see the preface. He neither calls himself an apostle, nor does he say that he was the brother of Christ, or bishop of Jerusalem; whether he was James the elder, son of Zebedee, or James the less, called our Lord’s brother, or some other person of the same name, we know not. The assertions of writers concerning these points are worthy of no regard. The Church has always received him as an apostle of Christ.
To the twelve tribes - scattered abroad - To the Jews, whether converted to Christianity or not, who lived out of Judea, and sojourned among the Gentiles for the purpose of trade or commerce. At this time there were Jews partly traveling, partly sojourning, and partly resident in most parts of the civilized world; particularly in Asia, Greece, Egypt, and Italy. I see no reason for restricting it to Jewish believers only; it was sent to all whom it might concern, but particularly to those who had received the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ; much less must we confine it to those who were scattered abroad at the persecution raised concerning Stephen, Acts 8:1, etc.; Acts 11:19, etc. That the twelve tribes were in actual existence when James wrote this epistle, Dr. Macknight thinks evident from the following facts:
“1. Notwithstanding Cyrus allowed all the Jews in his dominions to return to their own land, many of them did not return. This happened agreeably to God’s purpose, in permitting them to be carried captive into Assyria and Babylonia; for he intended to make himself known among the heathens, by means of the knowledge of his being and perfections, which the Jews, in their dispersion, would communicate to them. This also was the reason that God determined that the ten tribes should never return to their own land, Hos. 1:6; Hos. 8:8; Hos. 9:3, Hos. 9:15-17.
2. That, comparatively speaking, few of the twelve tribes returned in consequence of Cyrus’s decree, but continued to live among the Gentiles, appears from this: that in the days of Ahasuerus, one of the successors of Cyrus, who reigned from India to Ethiopia, over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, Esther 3:8, The Jews were dispersed among the people in all the provinces of his kingdom, and their laws were diverse from the laws of all other people, and they did not keep the king’s laws; so that, by adhering to their own usages, they kept themselves distinct from all the nations among whom they lived.
3. On the day of pentecost, which happened next after our Lord’s ascension, Acts 2:5, Acts 2:9, There were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven; Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, etc.; so numerous were the Jews, and so widely dispersed through all the countries of the world.
4. When Paul traveled through Asia and Europe, he found the Jews so numerous, that in all the noted cities of the Gentiles they had synagogues in which they assembled for the worship of God, and were joined by multitudes of proselytes from among the heathens, to whom likewise he preached the Gospel.
5. The same apostle, in his speech to King Agrippa, affirmed that the twelve tribes were then existing, and that they served God day and night, in expectation of the promise made to the fathers, Acts 26:6.
6. Josephus, Ant. i. 14, cap. 12, tells us that one region could not contain the Jews, but they dwelt in most of the flourishing cities of Asia and Europe, in the islands and continent, not much less in number than the heathen inhabitants. From all this it is evident that the Jews of the dispersion were more numerous than even the Jews in Judea, and that James very properly inscribed this letter to the twelve tribes which were in the dispersion, seeing the twelve tribes really existed then, and do still exist, although not distinguished by separate habitations, as they were anciently in their own land.
Greeting - Χαιρειν· Health; a mere expression of benevolence, a wish for their prosperity; a common form of salutation; see Acts 15:23; Acts 23:26; 2Jo. 1:11. — Clarke
James 1 - After the inscription and salutation (Jam. 1:1) Christians are taught how to conduct themselves when under the cross. Several graces and duties are recommended; and those who endure their trials and afflictions as the apostle here directs are pronounced blessed and are assured of a glorious reward (Jam. 1:2-12). But those sins which bring sufferings, or the weakness and faults men are chargeable with under them, are by no means to be imputed to God, who cannot be the author of sin, but is the author of all good (Jam. 1:13-18). All passion, and rash anger, and vile affections, ought to be suppressed. The word of God should be made our chief study: and what we hear and know of it we must take care to practise, otherwise our religion will prove but a vain thing. To this is added an account wherein pure religion consists (Jam. 1:19-27). — Henry
Christianity teaches men to be joyful under troubles: such exercises are sent from God's love; and trials in the way of duty will brighten our graces now, and our crown at last. Let us take care, in times of trial, that patience, and not passion, is set to work in us: whatever is said or done, let patience have the saying and doing of it. When the work of patience is complete, it will furnish all that is necessary for our Christian race and warfare. We should not pray so much for the removal of affliction, as for wisdom to make a right use of it. And who does not want wisdom to guide him under trials, both in regulating his own spirit, and in managing his affairs? Here is something in answer to every discouraging turn of the mind, when we go to God under a sense of our own weakness and folly. If, after all, any should say, This may be the case with some, but I fear I shall not succeed, the promise is, To any that asketh, it shall be given. A mind that has single and prevailing regard to its spiritual and eternal interest, and that keeps steady in its purposes for God, will grow wise by afflictions, will continue fervent in devotion, and rise above trials and oppositions. When our faith and spirits rise and fall with second causes, there will be unsteadiness in our words and actions. This may not always expose men to contempt in the world, but such ways cannot please God. No condition of life is such as to hinder rejoicing in God. Those of low degree may rejoice, if they are exalted to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom of God; and the rich may rejoice in humbling providences, that lead to a humble and lowly disposition of mind. Worldly wealth is a withering thing. Then, let him that is rich rejoice in the grace of God, which makes and keeps him humble; and in the trials and exercises which teach him to seek happiness in and from God, not from perishing enjoyments.
It is not every man who suffers, that is blessed; but he who with patience and constancy goes through all difficulties in the way of duty. Afflictions cannot make us miserable, if it be not our own fault. The tried Christian shall be a crowned one. The crown of life is promised to all who have the love of God reigning in their hearts. Every soul that truly loves God, shall have its trials in this world fully recompensed in that world above, where love is made perfect. The commands of God, and the dealings of his providence, try men's hearts, and show the dispositions which prevail in them. But nothing sinful in the heart or conduct can be ascribed to God. He is not the author of the dross, though his fiery trial exposes it. Those who lay the blame of sin, either upon their constitution, or upon their condition in the world, or pretend they cannot keep from sinning, wrong God as if he were the author of sin. Afflictions, as sent by God, are designed to draw out our graces, but not our corruptions. The origin of evil and temptation is in our own hearts. Stop the beginnings of sin, or all the evils that follow must be wholly charged upon us. God has no pleasure in the death of men, as he has no hand in their sin; but both sin and misery are owing to themselves. As the sun is the same in nature and influences, though the earth and clouds, often coming between, make it seem to us to vary, so God is unchangeable, and our changes and shadows are not from any changes or alterations in him. What the sun is in nature, God is in grace, providence, and glory; and infinitely more. As every good gift is from God, so particularly our being born again, and all its holy, happy consequences come from him. A true Christian becomes as different a person from what he was before the renewing influences of Divine grace, as if he were formed over again. We should devote all our faculties to God's service, that we may be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.
Instead of blaming God under our trials, let us open our ears and hearts to learn what he teaches by them. And if men would govern their tongues, they must govern their passions. The worst thing we can bring to any dispute, is anger. Here is an exhortation to lay apart, and to cast off as a filthy garment, all sinful practices. This must reach to sins of thought and affection, as well as of speech and practice; to every thing corrupt and sinful. We must yield ourselves to the word of God, with humble and teachable minds. Being willing to hear of our faults, taking it not only patiently, but thankfully. It is the design of the word of God to make us wise to salvation; and those who propose any mean or low ends in attending upon it, dishonour the gospel, and disappoint their own souls.
If we heard a sermon every day of the week, and an angel from heaven were the preacher, yet, if we rested in hearing only, it would never bring us to heaven. Mere hearers are self-deceivers; and self-deceit will be found the worst deceit at last. If we flatter ourselves, it is our own fault; the truth, as it is in Jesus, flatters no man. Let the word of truth be carefully attended to, and it will set before us the corruption of our nature, the disorders of our hearts and lives; and it will tell us plainly what we are. Our sins are the spots the law discovers: Christ's blood is the laver the gospel shows. But in vain do we hear God's word, and look into the gospel glass, if we go away, and forget our spots, instead of washing them off; and forget our remedy, instead of applying to it. This is the case with those who do not hear the word as they ought. In hearing the word, we look into it for counsel and direction, and when we study it, it turns to our spiritual life. Those who keep in the law and word of God, are, and shall be, blessed in all their ways. His gracious recompence hereafter, would be connected with his present peace and comfort. Every part of Divine revelation has its use, in bringing the sinner to Christ for salvation, and in directing and encouraging him to walk at liberty, by the Spirit of adoption, according to the holy commands of God. And mark the distinctness, it is not for his deeds, that any man is blessed, but in his deed. It is not talking, but walking, that will bring us to heaven. Christ will become more precious to the believer's soul, which by his grace will become more fitted for the inheritance of the saints in light.
When men take more pains to seem religious than really to be so, it is a sign their religion is in vain. The not bridling the tongue, readiness to speak of the faults of others, or to lessen their wisdom and piety, are signs of a vain religion. The man who has a slandering tongue, cannot have a truly humble, gracious heart. False religious may be known by their impurity and uncharitableness. True religion teaches us to do every thing as in the presence of God. An unspotted life must go with unfeigned love and charity. Our true religion is equal to the measure in which these things have place in our hearts and conduct. And let us remember, that nothing avails in Christ Jesus, but faith that worketh by love, purifies the heart, subdues carnal lusts, and obeys God's commands. — MHCC
We have here the inscription of this epistle, which consists of three principal parts.
I. The character by which our author desires to be known: James, a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was a prime-minister in Christ's kingdom, yet he styles himself only a servant. Note hence, Those who are highest in office or attainments in the church of Christ are but servants. They should not therefore act as masters, but as ministers. Further, Though James is called by the evangelist the brother of our Lord, yet it was his glory to serve Christ in the spirit, rather than to boast of his being akin according to the flesh. Hence let us learn to prize this title above all others in the world - the servants of God and of Christ. Again, it is to be observed that James professes himself a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ; to teach us that in all services we should have an eye to the Son as well as the Father. We cannot acceptably serve the Father, unless we are also servants of the Son. God will have all men to honour the Son as they honour the Father (Jn. 5:23), looking for acceptance in Christ and assistance from him, and yielding all obedience to him, thus confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
II. The apostle here mentions the condition of those to whom he writes: The twelve tribes which are scattered abroad. Some understand this of the dispersion upon the persecution of Stephen, Acts 8. But that only reached to Judea and Samaria. Others by the Jews of the dispersion understand those who were in Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, and other kingdoms into which their wars had driven them. The greatest part indeed of ten of the twelve tribes were lost in captivity; but yet some of every tribe were preserved and they are still honoured with the ancient style of twelve tribes. These however were scattered and dispersed. 1. They were dispersed in mercy. Having the scriptures of the Old Testament, the providence of God so ordered it that they were scattered in several countries for the diffusing of the light of divine revelation. 2. They began now to be scattered in wrath. The Jewish nation was crumbling into parties and factions, and many were forced to leave their own country, as having now grown too hot for them. Even good people among them shared in the common calamity. 3. These Jews of the dispersion were those who had embraced the Christian faith. They were persecuted and forced to seek for shelter in other countries, the Gentiles being kinder to Christians than the Jews were. Note here, It is often the lot even of God's own tribes to be scattered abroad. The gathering day is reserved for the end of time; when all the dispersed children of God shall be gathered together to Christ their head. In the mean time, while God's tribes are scattered abroad, he will send to look after them. Here is an apostle writing to the scattered; an epistle from God to them, when driven away from his temple, and seemingly neglected by him. Apply here that of the prophet Ezekiel, Thus saith the Lord God, Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come, Eze. 11:16. God has a particular care of his outcasts. Let my outcasts dwell with thee, Moab, Isa. 16:3, Isa. 16:4. God's tribes may be scattered; therefore we should not value ourselves too much on outward privileges. And, on the other hand, we should not despond and think ourselves rejected, under outward calamities, because God remembers and sends comfort to his scattered people.
III. James here shows the respect he had even for the dispersed: greeting, saluting them, wishing peace and salvation to them. True Christians should not be the less valued for their hardships. It was the desire of this apostle's heart that those who were scattered might be comforted - that they might do well and fare well, and be enabled to rejoice even in their distresses. God's people have reason to rejoice in all places, and at all times; as will abundantly appear from what follows.
We now come to consider the matter of this epistle. In this paragraph we have the following things to be observed: -
I. The suffering state of Christians in this world is represented, and that in a very instructive manner, if we attend to what is plainly and necessarily implied, together with what is fully expressed. 1. It is implied that troubles and afflictions may be the lot of the best Christians, even of those who have the most reason to think and hope well of themselves. Such as have a title to the greatest joy may yet endure very grievous afflictions. As good people are liable to be scattered, they must not think it strange if they meet with troubles. 2. These outward afflictions and troubles are temptations to them. The devil endeavours by sufferings and crosses to draw men to sin and to deter them from duty, or unfit them for it; but, as our afflictions are in God's hand, they are intended for the trial and improvement of our graces. The gold is put into the furnace, that it may be purified. 3. These temptations may be numerous and various: Divers temptations, as the apostle speaks. Our trials may be of many and different kinds, and therefore we have need to put on the whole armour of God. We must be armed on every side, because temptations lie on all sides. 4. The trials of a good man are such as he does not create to himself, nor sinfully pull upon himself; but they are such as he is said to fall into. And for this reason they are the better borne by him.
II. The graces and duties of a state of trial and affliction are here pointed out to us. Could we attend to these things, and grow in them as we should do, how good would it be for us to be afflicted!
1. One Christian grace to be exercised is joy: Count it all joy, Jam. 1:2. We must not sink into a sad and disconsolate frame of mind, which would make us faint under our trials; but must endeavour to keep our spirits dilated and enlarged, the better to take in a true sense of our case, and with greater advantage to set ourselves to make the best of it. Philosophy may instruct men to be calm under their troubles; but Christianity teaches them to be joyful, because such exercises proceed from love and not fury in God. In them we are conformable to Christ our head, and they become marks of our adoption. By suffering in the ways of righteousness, we are serving the interests of our Lord's kingdom among men, and edifying the body of Christ; and our trials will brighten our graces now and our crown at last. Therefore there is reason to count it all joy when trials and difficulties become our lot in the way of our duty. And this is not purely a New Testament paradox, but even in Job's time it was said, Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth. There is the more reason for joy in afflictions if we consider the other graces that are promoted by them.
2. Faith is a grace that one expression supposes and another expressly requires: Knowing this, that the trial of your faith, Jam. 1:3; and then in Jam. 1:6, Let him ask in faith. There must be a sound believing of the great truths of Christianity, and a resolute cleaving to them, in times of trial. That faith which is spoken of here as tried by afflictions consists in a belief of the power, and word, and promise of God, and in fidelity and constancy to the Lord Jesus.
3. There must be patience: The trial of faith worketh patience. The trying of one grace produces another; and the more the suffering graces of a Christian are exercised the stronger they grow. Tribulation worketh patience, Rom. 5:3. Now, to exercise Christian patience aright, we must, (1.) Let it work. It is not a stupid, but an active thing. Stoical apathy and Christian patience are very different: by the one men become, in some measure, insensible of their afflictions; but by the other they become triumphant in and over them. Let us take care, in times of trial, that patience and not passion, be set at work in us; whatever is said or done, let patience have the saying and doing of it: let us not allow the indulging of our passions to hinder the operation and noble effects of patience; let us give it leave to work, and it will work wonders in a time of trouble. (2.) We must let it have its perfect work. Do nothing to limit it nor to weaken it; but let it have its full scope: if one affliction come upon the heels of another, and a train of them are drawn upon us, yet let patience go on till its work is perfected. When we bear all that God appoints, and as long as he appoints, and with a humble obedient eye to him, and when we not only bear troubles, but rejoice in them, then patience hath its perfect work. (3.) When the work of patience is complete, then the Christian is entire, and nothing will be wanting: it will furnish us with all that is necessary for our Christian race and warfare, and will enable us to persevere to the end, and then its work will be ended, and crowned with glory. After we have abounded in other graces, we have need of patience, Heb. 10:36. But let patience have its perfect work, and we shall be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
4. Prayer is a duty recommended also to suffering Christians; and here the apostle shows, (1.) What we ought more especially to pray for - wisdom: If any lack wisdom, let him ask of God. We should not pray so much for the removal of an affliction as for wisdom to make a right use of it. And who is there that does not want wisdom under any great trials or exercises to guide him in his judging of things, in the government of his own spirit and temper, and in the management of his affairs? To be wise in trying times is a special gift of God, and to him we must seek for it. (2.) In what way this is to be obtained - upon our petitioning or asking for it. Let the foolish become beggars at the throne of grace, and they are in a fair way to be wise. It is not said, “Let such ask of man,” no, not of any man, but, “Let him ask of God,” who made him, and gave him his understanding and reasonable powers at first, of him in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Let us confess our want of wisdom to God and daily ask it of him. (3.) We have the greatest encouragement to do this: he giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not. Yea, it is expressly promised that it shall be given, Jam. 1:5. Here is something in answer to every discouraging turn of the mind, when we go to God, under a sense of our own weakness and folly, to ask for wisdom. He to whom we are sent, we are sure, has it to give: and he is of a giving disposition, inclined to bestow this upon those who ask. Nor is there any fear of his favours being limited to some in this case, so as to exclude others, or any humble petitioning soul; for he gives to all men. If you should say you want a great deal of wisdom, a small portion will not serve your turn, the apostle affirms, he gives liberally; and lest you should be afraid of going to him unseasonably, or being put to shame for your folly, it is added, he upbraideth not. Ask when you will, and as often as you will, you will meet with no upbraidings. And if, after all, any should say, “This may be the case with some, but I fear I shall not succeed so well in my seeking for wisdom as some others may,” let such consider how particular and express the promise is: It shall be given him. Justly then must fools perish in their foolishness, if wisdom may be had for asking, and they will not pray to God for it. But, (4.) There is one thing necessary to be observed in our asking, namely, that we do it with a believing, steady mind: Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering, Jam. 1:6. The promise above is very sure, taking this proviso along with us; wisdom shall be given to those who ask it of God, provided they believe that God is able to make the simple wise, and is faithful to make good his word to those who apply to him. This was the condition Christ insisted on, in treating with those who came to him for healing: Believest thou that I am able to do this? There must be no wavering, no staggering at the promise of God through unbelief, or through a sense of any disadvantages that lie on our own part. Here therefore we see,
5. That oneness, and sincerity of intention, and a steadiness of mind, constitute another duty required under affliction: He that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind, and tossed. To be sometimes lifted up by faith, and then thrown down again by distrust - to mount sometimes towards the heavens, with an intention to secure glory, and honour, and immortality, and then to sink again in seeking the ease of the body, or the enjoyments of this world - this is very fitly and elegantly compared to a wave of the sea, that rises and falls, swells and sinks, just as the wind tosses it higher or lower, that way or this. A mind that has but one single and prevailing regard to its spiritual and eternal interest, and that keeps steady in its purposes for God, will grow wise by afflictions, will continue fervent in its devotions, and will be superior to all trials and oppositions. Now, for the cure of a wavering spirit and a weak faith, the apostle shows the ill effects of these, (1.) In that the success of prayer is spoiled hereby: Let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord, Jam. 1:7. Such a distrustful, shifting, unsettled person is not likely to value a favour from God as he should do, and therefore cannot expect to receive it. In asking for divine and heavenly wisdom we are never likely to prevail if we have not a heart to prize it above rubies, and the greatest things in this world. (2.) A wavering faith and spirit has a bad influence upon our conversations. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways, Jam. 1:8. When our faith and spirits rise and fall with second causes, there will be great unsteadiness in all our conversation and actions. This may sometimes expose men to contempt in the world; but it is certain that such ways cannot please God nor procure any good for us in the end. While we have but one God to trust to, we have but one God to be governed by, and this should keep us even and steady. He that is unstable as water shall not excel. Hereupon,
III. The holy humble temper of a Christian, both in advancement and debasement, is described: and both poor and rich are directed on what grounds to build their joy and comfort, Jam. 1:9-11. Here we may observe, 1. Those of low degree are to be looked upon as brethren: Let the brother of low degree, etc. Poverty does not destroy the relation among Christians. 2. Good Christians may be rich in the world, Jam. 1:10. Grace and wealth are not wholly inconsistent. Abraham, the father of the faithful, was rich in silver and gold. 3. Both these are allowed to rejoice. No condition of lie puts us out of a capacity of rejoicing in God. If we do not rejoice in him always, it is our own fault. Those of low degree may rejoice, if they are exalted to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom of God (as Dr. Whitby explains this place); and the rich may rejoice in humbling providences, as they produce a lowly and humble disposition of mind, which is highly valuable in the sight of God. Where any are made poor for righteousness' sake, their very poverty is their exaltation. It is an honour to be dishonoured for the sake of Christ. To you it is given to suffer, Phi. 1:29. All who are brought low, and made lowly by grace, may rejoice in the prospect of their exaltation at the last in heaven. 4. Observe what reason rich people have, notwithstanding their riches, to be humble and low in their own eyes, because both they and their riches are passing away: As the flower of the grass he shall pass away. He, and his wealth with him, Jam. 1:11. For the sun has no sooner risen with a burning heat than it withereth the grass. Note hence, Worldly wealth is a withering thing. Riches are too uncertain (says Mr. Baxter on this place), too inconsiderable things to make any great or just alteration in our minds. As a flower fades before the heat of the scorching sun, so shall the rich man fade away in his ways. His projects, counsels, and managements for this world, are called his ways; in these he shall fade away. For this reason let him that is rich rejoice, not so much in the providence of God, that makes him rich, as in the grace of God, that makes and keeps him humble; and in those trials and exercises that teach him to seek his felicity in and from God, and not from these perishing enjoyments.
IV. A blessing is pronounced on those who endure their exercises and trials, as here directed: Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, Jam. 1:12. Observe, 1. It is not the man who suffers only that is blessed, but he who endures, who with patience and constancy goes through all difficulties in the way of his duty. 2. Afflictions cannot make us miserable, if it be not our own fault. A blessing may arise from them, and we may be blessed in them. They are so far from taking away a good man's felicity that they really increase it. 3. Sufferings and temptations are the way to eternal blessedness: When he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, dokimos genomenos - when he is approved, when his graces are found to be true and of the highest worth (so metals are tried as to their excellency by the fire), and when his integrity is manifested, and all is approved of the great Judge. Note hence, To be approved of God is the great aim of a Christian in all his trials; and it will be his blessedness at last, when he shall receive the crown of life. The tried Christian shall be a crowned one: and the crown he shall wear will be a crown of life. It will be life and bliss to him, and will last for ever. We only bear the cross for a while, but we shall wear the crown to eternity. 4. This blessedness, involved in a crown of life, is a promised thing to the righteous sufferer. It is therefore what we may most surely depend upon: for, when heaven and earth shall pass away, this word of God shall not fail of being fulfilled. But withal let us take notice that our future reward comes, not as a debt, but by a gracious promise. 5. Our enduring temptations must be from a principle of love to God and to our Lord Jesus Christ, otherwise we are not interested in this promise: The Lord hath promised to those that love him. Paul supposes that a man may for some point of religion even give his body to be burnt, and yet not be pleasing to God, nor regarded by him, because of his want of charity, or a prevailing sincere love to God and man, 1Co. 13:3. 6. The crown of life is promised not only to great and eminent saints, but to all those who have the love of God reigning in their hearts. Every soul that truly loves God shall have its trials in this world fully recompensed in that world above where love is made perfect.
I. We are here taught that God is not the author of any man's sin. Whoever they are who raise persecutions against men, and whatever injustice and sin they may be guilty of in proceeding against them, God is not to be charged with it. And, whatever sins good men may themselves be provoked to by their exercises and afflictions, God is not the cause of them. It seems to be here supposed that some professors might fall in the hour of temptation, that the rod resting upon them might carry some into ill courses, and make them put forth their hands unto iniquity. But though this should be the case, and though such delinquents should attempt to lay their fault on God, yet the blame of their misconduct must lie entirely upon themselves. For, 1. There is nothing in the nature of God that they can lay the blame upon: Let no man say, when he is tempted to take any evil course, or do any evil thing, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil. All moral evil is owing to some disorder in the being that is chargeable with it, to a want of wisdom, or of power, or of decorum and purity in the will. But who can impeach the holy God with the want of these, which are his very essence? No exigence of affairs can ever tempt him to dishonour or deny himself, and therefore he cannot be tempted with evil. 2. There is nothing in the providential dispensations of God that the blame of any man's sin can be laid upon (Jam. 1:13): Neither tempteth he any man. As God cannot be tempted with evil himself, so neither can he be a tempter of others. He cannot be a promoter of what is repugnant to his nature. The carnal mind is willing to charge its own sins on God. There is something hereditary in this. Our first father Adam tells God, The woman thou gavest me tempted me, thereby, in effect, throwing the blame upon God, for giving him the tempter. Let no man speak thus. It is very bad to sin; but is much worse, when we have done amiss, to charge it upon God, and say it was owing to him. Those who lay the blame of their sins either upon their constitution or upon their condition in the world, or who pretend they are under a fatal necessity of sinning, wrong God, as if he were the author of sin. Afflictions, as sent by God, are designed to draw out our graces, but not our corruptions.
II. We are taught where the true cause of evil lies, and where the blame ought to be laid (Jam. 1:14): Every man is tempted (in an ill sense) when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. In other scriptures the devil is called the tempter, and other things may sometimes concur to tempt us; but neither the devil nor any other person or thing is to be blamed so as to excuse ourselves; for the true original of evil and temptation is in our own hearts. The combustible matter is in us, though the flame may be blown up by some outward causes. And therefore, if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it, Prov. 9:12. Observe here, 1. The method of sin in its proceeding. First it draws away, then entices. As holiness consists of two parts - forsaking that which is evil and cleaving to that which is good, so these two things, reversed, are the two parts of sin. The heart is carried from that which is good, and enticed to cleave to that which is evil. It is first by corrupt inclinations, or by lusting after and coveting some sensual or worldly thing, estranged from the life of God, and then by degrees fixed in a course of sin. 2. We may observe hence the power and policy of sin. The word here rendered drawn away signifies a being forcibly haled or compelled. The word translated enticed signifies being wheedled and beguiled by allurements and deceitful representations of things, exelkominos kai deleazomenos. There is a great deal of violence done to conscience and to the mind by the power of corruption: and there is a great deal of cunning and deceit and flattery in sin to gain us to its interests. The force and power of sin could never prevail, were it not for its cunning and guile. Sinners who perish are wheedled and flattered to their own destruction. And this will justify God for ever in their damnation, that they destroyed themselves. Their sin lies at their own door, and therefore their blood will lie upon their own heads. 3. The success of corruption in the heart (Jam. 1:15): Then, when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; that is, sin being allowed to excite desires in us, it will son ripen those desires into consent, and then it is said to have conceived. The sin truly exists, though it be but in embryo. And, when it has grown it its full size in the mind, it is then brought forth in actual execution. Stop the beginnings of sin therefore, or else all the evils it produces must be wholly charged upon us. 4. The final issue of sin, and how it ends: Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. After sin is brought forth in actual commissions, the finishing of it (as Dr. Manton observes) is its being strengthened by frequent acts and settled into a habit. And, when the iniquities of men are thus filled up, death is brought forth. There is a death upon the soul, and death comes upon the body. And, besides death spiritual and temporal, the wages of sin is eternal death too. Let sin therefore be repented of and forsaken, before it be finished. Why will you die, O house of Israel! Eze. 33:11. God has no pleasure in your death, as he has no hand in your sin; but both sin and misery are owing to yourselves. Your own hearts' lusts and corruptions are your tempters; and when by degrees they have carried you off from God, and finished the power and dominion of sin in you, then they will prove your destroyers.
III. We are taught yet further that, while we are the authors and procurers of all sin and misery to ourselves, God is the Father and fountain of all good, Jam. 1:16, Jam. 1:17. We should take particular care not to err in our conceptions of God: “Do not err, my beloved brethren, mē lanasthe - do not wander, that is, from the word of God, and the accounts of him you have there. Do not stray into erroneous opinions, and go off from the standard of truth, the things which you have received from the Lord Jesus and by the direction of his Spirit.” The loose opinions of Sinon, and the Nicolaitans (from whom the Gnostics, a most sensual corrupt set of people, arose afterwards), may perhaps, by the apostle here, be more especially cautioned against. Those who are disposed to look into these may consult the first book of Irenaeus against heresies. Let corrupt men run into what notions they will, the truth, as it is in Jesus, stands thus: That God is not, cannot be, the author and patronizer of any thing that is evil; but must be acknowledged as the cause and spring of every thing that is good: Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, Jam. 1:17. Here observe, 1. God is the Father of lights. The visible light of the sun and the heavenly bodies is from him. He said, Let there be light, and there was light. Thus God is at once represented as the Creator of the sun and in some respects compared to it. “As the sun is the same in its nature and influences, though the earth and clouds, oft interposing, make it seem to us as varying, by its rising and setting, and by its different appearances, or entire withdrawment, when the change is not in it; so God is unchangeable, and our changes and shadows are not from any mutability or shadowy alterations in him, but from ourselves.” - Baxter. The Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. What the sun is in nature, God is in grace, providence, and glory; aye, and infinitely more. For, 2. Every good gift is from him. As the Father of lights, he gives the light of reason. The inspiration of the Almighty giveth understanding, Job. 32:8. He gives also the light of learning: Solomon's wisdom in the knowledge of nature, in the arts of government, and in all his improvements, is ascribed to God. The light of divine revelation is more immediately from above. The light of faith, purity, and all manner of consolation is from him. So that we have nothing good but what we receive from God, as there is no evil or sin in us, or done by us, but what is owing to ourselves. We must own God as the author of all the powers and perfections that are in the creature, and the giver of all the benefits which we have in and by those powers and perfections: but none of their darknesses, their imperfections, or their ill actions are to be charged on the Father of lights; from him proceeds every good and perfect gift, both pertaining to this life and that which is to come. 3. As every good gift is from God, so particularly the renovation of our natures, our regeneration, and all the holy happy consequences of it, must be ascribed to him (Jam. 1:18): Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth. Here let us take notice, (1.) A true Christian is a creature begotten anew. He becomes as different a person from what he was before the renewing influences of divine grace as if he were formed over again, and born afresh. (2.) The original of this good work is here declared: it is of God's own will; not by our skill or power; not from any good foreseen in us, or done by us, but purely from the good-will and grace of God. (3.) The means whereby this is affected are pointed out: the word of truth, that is, the gospel, as Paul expresses it more plainly, 1Co. 4:15, I have begotten you in Jesus Christ through the gospel. This gospel in indeed a word of truth, or else it could never produce such real, such lasting, such great and noble effects. We may rely upon it, and venture our immortal souls upon it. And we shall find it a means of our sanctification as it is a word of truth, Jn. 17:17. (4.) The end and design of God's giving renewing grace is here laid down: That we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures - that we should be God's portion and treasure, and a more peculiar property to him, as the first-fruits were; and that we should become holy to the Lord, as the first-fruits were consecrated to him. Christ is the first-fruits of Christians, Christians are the first-fruits of creatures.
In this part of the chapter we are required,
I. To restrain the workings of passion. This lesson we should learn under afflictions; and this we shall learn if we are indeed begotten again by the word of truth. For thus the connection stands - An angry and hasty spirit is soon provoked to ill things by afflictions, and errors and ill opinions become prevalent through the workings of our own vile and vain affections; but the renewing grace of God and the word of the gospel teach us to subdue these: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, Jam. 1:19. This may refer, 1. To the word of truth spoken of in the verse foregoing. And so we may observe, It is our duty rather to hear God's word, and apply our minds to understand it, than to speak according to our own fancies or the opinions of men, and to run into heat and passion thereupon. Let not such errors as that of God's being the occasion of men's sin ever be hastily, much less angrily, mentioned by you (and so as to other errors); but be ready to hear and consider what God's word teaches in all such cases. 2. This may be applied to the afflictions and temptations spoken of in the beginning of the chapter. And then we may observe, It is our duty rather to hear how God explains his providences, and what he designs by the, than to say as David did in his haste, I am cut off; or as Jonah did in his passion, I do well to be angry. Instead of censuring God under our trials, let us open our ears and hearts to hear what he will say to us. 3. This may be understood as referring to the disputes and differences that Christians, in those times of trial, were running into among themselves: and so this part of the chapter may be considered without any connection with what goes before. Here we may observe that, whenever matters of difference arise among Christians, each side should be willing to hear the other. People are often stiff in their own opinions because they are not willing to hear what others have to offer against them: whereas we should be swift to hear reason and truth on all sides, and be slow to speak any thing that should prevent this: and, when we do speak, there should be nothing of wrath; for a soft answer turneth away wrath. As this epistle is designed to correct a variety of disorders that existed among Christians, these words, swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, may be very well interpreted according to this last explication. And we may further observe from them that, if men would govern their tongues, they must govern their passions. When Moses's spirit was provoked, he spoke unadvisedly with his lips. If we would be slow to speak, we must be slow to wrath.
II. A very good reason is given for suppressing: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God, Jam. 1:20. It is as if the apostle had said, “Whereas men often pretend zeal for God and his glory, in their heat and passion, let them know that God needs not the passions of any man; his cause is better served by mildness and meekness than by wrath and fury.” Solomon says, The words of the wise are heard in quiet, more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools, Eccl. 9:17. Dr. Manton here says of some assemblies, “That if we were as swift to hear as we are ready to speak there would be less of wrath, and more of profit, in our meetings. I remember when a Manichee contested with Augustine, and with importunate clamour cried, Hear me! hear me! the father modestly replied, Nec ego te, nec tu me, sed ambo audiamus apostolum - Neither let me hear thee, nor do thou hear me, but let us both hear the apostle.” The worst thing we can bring to a religious controversy is anger. This, however it may pretend to be raised by a concern for what is just and right, is not to be trusted. Wrath is a human thing, and the wrath of man stands opposed to the righteousness of God. Those who pretend to serve the cause of God hereby show that they are acquainted neither with God or his cause. This passion must especially be watched against when we are hearing the word of God. See 1Pe. 2:1, 1Pe. 2:2.
III. We are called upon to suppress other corrupt affections, as well as rash anger: Lay aside all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, Jam. 1:21. The word here translated filthiness signifies those lusts which have the greatest turpitude and sensuality in them; and the words rendered superfluity of naughtiness may be understood of the overflowings of malice or any other spiritual wickednesses. Hereby we are taught, as Christians, to watch against, and lay aside, not only those more gross and fleshly dispositions and affections which denominate a person filthy, but all the disorders of a corrupt heart, which would prejudice it against the word and ways of God. Observe, 1. Sin is a defiling thing; it is called filthiness itself. 2. There is abundance of that which is evil in us, to be watched against; there is superfluity of naughtiness. 3. It is not enough to restrain evil affections, but they must be cast from us, or laid apart. Isa. 30:22, Thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth; thou shalt say, Get you hence. 4. This must extend not only to outward sins, and greater abominations, but to all sin of thought and affection as well as speech and practice; pasan rhuparian - all filthiness, every thing that is corrupt and sinful. 5. Observe, from the foregoing parts of this chapter, the laying aside of all filthiness is what a time of temptation and affliction calls for, and is necessary to the avoiding of error, and the right receiving and improving of the word of truth: for,
IV. We are here fully, though briefly, instructed concerning hearing the word of God.
1. We are required to prepare ourselves for it (Jam. 1:21), to get rid of every corrupt affection and of every prejudice and prepossession, and to lay aside those sins which pervert the judgment and blind the mind. All the filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, before explained, must, in an especial manner, be subdued and cast off, by all such as attend on the word of the gospel.
2. We are directed how to hear it: Receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. (1.) In hearing the word of God, we are to receive it - assent to the truths of it - consent to the laws of it; receive it as the stock does the graft; so as that the fruit which is produced may be, not according to the nature of the sour stock, but according to the nature of that word of the gospel which is engrafted into our souls. (2.) We must therefore yield ourselves to the word of God, with most submissive, humble, and tractable tempers: this is to receive it with meekness. Being willing to hear of our faults, and taking it not only patiently, but thankfully, desiring also to be molded and formed by the doctrines and precepts of the gospel. (3.) In all our hearing we should aim at the salvation of our souls. It is the design of the word of God to make us wise to salvation; and those who propose any meaner or lower ends to themselves in attending upon it dishonour the gospel and disappoint their souls. We should come to the word of God (both to read it and hear it), as those who know it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, Rom. 1:16.
3. We are taught what is to be done after hearing (Jam. 1:22): But be you doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. Observe here, (1.) Hearing is in order to doing; the most attentive and the most frequent hearing of the word of God will not avail us, unless we be also doers of it. If we were to hear a sermon every day of the week, and an angel from heaven were the preacher, yet, if we rested in bare hearing, it would never bring us to heaven. Therefore the apostle insists much upon it (and, without doubt, it is indispensably necessary) that we practice what we hear. “There must be inward practice by meditation, and outward practice in true obedience.” Baxter. It is not enough to remember what we hear, and to be able to repeat it, and to give testimony to it, and commend it, and write it, and preserve what we have written; that which all this is in order to, and which crowns the rest, is that we be doers of the word. Observe, (2.) Bare hearers are self-deceivers; the original word, paralogizomenoi, signifies men's arguing sophistically to themselves; their reasoning is manifestly deceitful and false when they would make one part of their work discharge them from the obligation they lie under to another, or persuade themselves that filling their heads with notions is sufficient, though their hearts be empty of good affections and resolutions, and their lives fruitless of good works. Self-deceit will be found the worst deceit at last.
4. The apostle shows what is the proper use of the word of God, who they are that do not use it as they ought, and who they are that do make a right use of it, Jam. 1:23-25. Let us consider each of these distinctly. (1.) The use we are to make of God's word may be learnt from its being compared to a glass, in which a man may behold his natural face. As a looking-glass shows us the spots and defilements upon our faces, that they may be remedied and washed off, so the word of God shows us our sins, that we may repent of them and get them pardoned; it shows us what is amiss, that it may be amended. There are glasses that will flatter people; but that which is truly the word of God is no flattering glass. If you flatter yourselves, it is your own fault; the truth, as it is in Jesus, flatters no man. Let the word of truth be carefully attended to, and it will set before you the corruption of your nature, the disorders of your hearts and lives; it will tell you plainly what you are. Paul describes himself as in sensible of the corruption of his nature till he saw himself in the glass of the law (Rom. 7:9): “I was alive without the law; that is, I took all to be right with me, and thought myself not only clean, but, compared with the generality of the world, beautiful too; but when the commandment came, when the glass of the law was set before me, then sin revived, and I died - then I saw my spots and deformities, and discovered that amiss in myself which before I was not aware of; and such was the power of the law, and of sin, that I then perceived myself in a state of death and condemnation.” Thus, when we attend to the word of God, so as to see ourselves, our true state and condition, to rectify what is amiss, and to form and dress ourselves anew by the glass of God's word, this is to make a proper use of it. (2.) We have here an account of those who do not use this glass of the word as they ought: He that beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was, Jam. 1:24. This is the true description of one who hears the word of God and does it not. How many are there who, when they sit under the word, are affected with their own sinfulness, misery, and danger, acknowledge the evil of sin, and their need of Christ; but, when their hearing is over, all is forgotten, convictions are lost, good affections vanish, and pass away like the waters of a land-flood: he straightway forgets. “The word of God (as Dr. Manton speaks) discovers how we may do away our sins, and deck and attire our souls with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Maculae sunt peccata, quae ostendit lex; aqua est sanguis Christi, quem ostendit evangelium - Our sins are the spots which the law discovers; Christ's blood is the laver which the gospel shows.” But in vain do we hear God's word, and look into the gospel glass, if we go away, and forget our spots, instead of washing them off, and forget our remedy, instead of applying to it. This is the case of those who do not hear the word as they ought. (3.) Those also are described, and pronounced blessed, who hear aright, and who use the glass of God's word as they should do (Jam. 1:25): Whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, etc. Observe here, [1.] The gospel is a law of liberty, or, as Mr. Baxter expresses it, of liberation, giving us deliverance from the Jewish law, and from sin and guilt, and wrath and death. The ceremonial law was a yoke of bondage; the gospel of Christ is a law of liberty. [2.] It is a perfect law; nothing can be added to it. [3.] In hearing the word, we look into this perfect law; we consult it for counsel and direction; we look into it, that we may thence take our measures. [4.] Then only do we look into the law of liberty as we should when we continue therein - “when we dwell in the study of it, till it turn to a spiritual life, engrafted and digested in us” (Baxter) - when we are not forgetful of it, but practice it as our work and business, set it always before our eyes, and make it the constant rule of our conversation and behaviour, and model the temper of our minds by it. [5.] Those who thus do, and continue in the law and word of God, are, and shall be, blessed in their deed; blessed in all their ways, according to the first psalm, to which, some think, James here alludes. He that meditates in the law of God, and walks according to it, the psalmist says, shall prosper in whatsoever he does. And he that is not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work which God's word sets him about, James says, shall be blessed. The papists pretend that here we have a clear text to prove we are blessed for our good deeds; but Dr. Manton, in answer to that pretence, puts the reader upon marking the distinctness of scripture-phrase. The apostle does not say, for his deeds, that any man is blessed, but in his deed. This is a way in which we shall certainly find blessedness, but not the cause of it. This blessedness does not lie in knowing, but in doing the will of God. Jn. 13:17, If you know these things, happy are you if you do them. It is not talking, but walking, that will bring us to heaven.
V. The apostle next informs us how we may distinguish between a vain religion and that which is pure and approved of God. Great and hot disputes there are in the world about this matter: what religion is false and vain, and what is true and pure. I wish men would agree to let the holy scripture in this place determine the question: and here it is plainly and peremptorily declared,
1. What is a vain religion: If any man among you seemeth to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Here are three things to be observed: - (1.) In a vain religion there is much of show, and affecting to seem religious in the eyes of others. This, I think, is mentioned in a manner that should fix our thoughts on the word seemeth. When men are more concerned to seem religious than really to be so, it is a sign that their religion is but vain. Not that religion itself is a vain thing (those do it a great deal of injustice who say, It is in vain to serve the Lord), but it is possible for people to make it a vain thing, if they have only a form of godliness, and not the power. (2.) In a vain religion there is much censuring, reviling, and detracting of others. The not bridling the tongue here is chiefly meant of not abstaining from these evils of the tongue. When we hear people ready to speak of the faults of others, or to censure them as holding scandalous errors, or to lessen the wisdom and piety of those about them, that they themselves may seem the wiser and better, this is a sign that they have but a vain religion. The man who has a detracting tongue cannot have a truly humble gracious heart. He who delights to injure his neighbour in vain pretends to love God; therefore a reviling tongue will prove a man a hypocrite. Censuring is a pleasing sin, extremely complaint with nature, and therefore evinces a man's being in a natural state. These sins of the tongue were the great sins of that age in which James wrote (as other parts of this epistle fully show); and it is a strong sing of a vain religion (says Dr. Manton) to be carried away with the evil of the times. This has ever been a leading sin with hypocrites, that the more ambitious they have been to seem well themselves the more free they have been in censuring and running down others; and there is such quick intercourse between the tongue and the heart that the one may be known by the other. On these accounts it is that the apostle has made an ungoverned tongue an undoubted certain proof of a vain religion. There is no strength nor power in that religion which will not enable a man to bridle his tongue. (3.) In a vain religion a man deceives his own heart; he goes on in such a course of detracting from others, and making himself seem somebody, that at last the vanity of his religion is consummated by the deceiving of his own soul. When once religion comes to be a vain thing, how great is the vanity!
2. It is here plainly and peremptorily declared wherein true religion consists: Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, Jam. 1:27. Observe, (1.) It is the glory of religion to be pure and undefiled; not mixed with the inventions of men nor with the corruption of the world. False religions may be known by their impurity and uncharitableness; according to that of John, He that doeth not righteousness is not of God neither he that loveth not his brother, 1Jo. 3:10. But, on the other hand, a holy life and a charitable heart show a true religion. Our religion is not (says Dr. Manton) adorned with ceremonies, but purity and charity. And it is a good observation of his that a religion which is pure should be kept undefiled. (2.) That religion is pure and undefiled which is so before God and the Father. That is right which is so in God's eye, and which chiefly aims at his approbation. True religion teaches us to do every thing as in the presence of God; and to seek his favour, and study to please him in all our actions. (3.) Compassion and charity to the poor and distressed from a very great and necessary part of true religion: Visiting the fatherless and widow in their affliction. Visiting is here put for all manner of relief which we are capable of giving to others; and fatherless and widows are here particularly mentioned, because they are generally most apt to be neglected or oppressed: but by them we are to understand all who are proper objects of charity, all who are in affliction. It is very remarkable that if the sum of religion be drawn up to two articles this is one - to be charitable and relieve the afflicted. Observe, (4.) An unspotted life must accompany an unfeigned love and charity: To keep himself unspotted from the world. The world is apt to spot and blemish the soul, and it is hard to live in it, and have to do with it, and not be defiled; but this must be our constant endeavour. Herein consists pure and undefiled religion. The very things of the world too much taint our spirits, if we are much conversant with them; but the sins and lusts of the world deface and defile them very woefully indeed. John comprises all that is in the world, which we are not to love, under three heads: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; and to keep ourselves unspotted from all these is to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. May God by his grace keep both our hearts and lives clean from the love of the world, and from the temptations of wicked worldly men. — Henry
See New Testament Table of Contents, and please read the Introductory Notes here