Comments On The Epistle Of James
James writes very early in the history of the church; and does not write to the church, but to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, that is, all Israel. He speaks of the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, to which all Israel was responsible to bow, and respond with suitable works. Of course, only Christians would so respond; but he presses responsibility upon every reader. It is elementary Christianity, for those emerging from the bondage of Judaism; but does not present the truths of our place in Christ, or heavenly position and blessings. We need its instruction just as we need to remember things learned in primary grades of school.
This chapter has a very close relationship to the Old Testament, for all is seen in connection with God; and Christ is not yet spoken of as the center and essence of all blessing and of all direction for the people of God. Chapter 2 introduces this.
James writes simply as a bondservant, not as an apostle communicating the mind of God. For he emphasizes conduct, not doctrine. It may be questioned as to how all twelve tribes might be contacted for the distribution of this message (specially since it is not known where they are scattered); but whether they hear it or not, yet none are to be excluded from its message, which is for all Israel, all of them certainly responsible to bow to and exemplify "the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ."
They were afflicted by temptations, both from being exposed to persecution by Gentiles simply because they were Jews; and from exposure to persecution for Christ's sake, if they were Christians. Yet such trials they were to count "all joy," as the Lord Himself had said. Matt.5:11,12. These would beget patient endurance. Yet such a result could be hindered by a resentful or discouraged attitude, and they are urged to allow patience to develop a mature, full work in their souls. It is God's way of bringing us to full growth, with no lack remaining. Let us then be willing to allow His work to prosper. Faith is the power for this.
Closely linked with this is the need of wisdom, one of the proper fruits of the new birth. Any lack in this should move us to pray earnestly and believingly, in thorough confidence that our God will give wisdom, for He delights to give liberally, without censure. He desires our unquestioning faith, as that of a child who implicitly trusts his parent. Our wavering as to this is an insult to a faithful loving Creator, for we show ourselves unstable as a wave of the sea, driven by every conflicting wind of circumstance, which winds are intended only as a test of our faith. One with this attitude receives what he expects -- nothing --, but God remains stable and faithful, in how great contrast to a double-minded man, all of whose ways will declare his instability.
Now those low in the social scale (the poor) and the rich are addressed, in order that both should find themselves virtually on the same level. The poor may rejoice because he is exalted. No doubt James is not speaking of the exalted place of his acceptance in Christ, which Paul emphasizes, but of God's exalting him in practical experience of God's blessing spiritually.
On the other hand, the rich God knows how to bring low by His wise governmental dealings, oftentimes by persecution. It may not be so easy to rejoice in this, but many have done so who have found the resulting spiritual blessing to far outweigh all temporal loss. How well for a rich man to remember that, though the flower of the grass is beautiful, yet it is only come and gone: such is the boasted prosperity of man. The burning sun (the heat of trial in the world) both withers the grass (mankind generally), and reduces the lovely flower (the rich and noble) to an unsightly death.
Verse 12 shows there is true happiness in enduring temptation. Of course the tendency of temptation is to prompt one to succumb, not to endure. It is called temptation whether one is inclined to give in or not. In the Lord Jesus of course there was never any such inclination, and no possibility of giving in. The trial proved this. The new nature in the believer also "cannot sin." (1 John 3:9) If we do succumb to temptation, this is the old nature in operation. In the main, true believers will endure, for this is the character of the new life; and those who endure will receive the crown of life, life known in its full, pure flow, above all circumstances of trial. It is the Lord's promise to those who love Him, which certainly means all true believers.
But some would dare to blame God for putting temptation in their way, that is sinful allurements. In verse 1 it had been a question, not of such allurements, but of tribulations, which should be endured in patience and joy. In such trials, God has a direct hand, no doubt, as in the case of Abraham (Gen.22:1); but it is not God who puts moral evil in a man's way, by which to tempt him. Satan of course did this in the garden of Eden; yet verse 14 is clear that it is a person's own lust that leads him to be drawn away. Whether Satan or men tempt him, he himself is responsible for yielding to this. And once lust is indulged, it conceives and brings forth sin; then of course sin results in death. Therefore, to judge the root of self-in-diligence is the one way for the child of God to meet this: the temptation is to be refused.
It is an urgent matter here that, as beloved brethren, we do not err. On the one side, the temptation to evil proceeds from our own fleshly lusts: on the other side, all that is good and wholesome comes from above, not from ourselves, but is the gracious gift of the Father of lights. Surely this involves every various ray of the spectrum; for every color of the light is a beautiful symbolization of some precious attribute of God and Father, who deals with us in perfection of wisdom and goodness. And in Him is no variableness, but absolute, undeviating consistency; and no shadow of turning, no suggestion of change in His character of pure goodness.
By the sovereign will of such a Father -- faithful and dependable -- we who are saved have been begotten of Him. Of course this is new birth, so that we are blessed with the same marvelous life that in the Father is sublime perfection. It is "the Word of truth" that is the direct agent in such birth, that which has vital, transforming power. This bears fruit of most precious character, and in the present day believers are a kind of first fruits of God's creatures, manifest as His children before the day when Christ is manifested in His millennia glory, and Israel born again as children of God. This will of course be the full fruition of God's ways with that nation, but in many Jewish believers He had already wrought, as a kind of first fruits.
On this ground we may well be admonished (again as beloved brethren) to be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. If all good comes from the Father, by His own will, and through His own Word, certainly it is our wisdom to be learners, our ears open, our tongues restrained, and our tempers kept in control. For the tongue and the temper are a revealing index to the state of a soul.
Men may sometimes feel their wrath is because of God's glory; but this is very questionable in the light of v.20; the righteousness of God is not wrought out by the wrath of man. Rather, man's wrath is linked with filthiness and overflow of wickedness in v.21, as that which is to be laid aside. The losing of one's temper is manifestly the overflow of wickedness.
On the positive side, we are to receive with meekness the engrafted word, a quiet, receptive spirit being in contrast to wrath. The word is spoken of as engrafted here because a graft produces a different fruit than did the old stock: so the word brings forth fruit of a new kind, having in itself power to save souls.
But it brings responsibility too. Certainly it is received by hearing; but that word is no dormant thing, to be merely stored up and forgotten. Rightly received, it produces actions otherwise one is deceiving himself. Do we fill a vessel with water merely to let it stagnate? Does one learn gardening with the object of merely looking out the window at his overgrown yard?
A mere hearer and not a doer of the Word is likened now to a man looking into a mirror, but with such a fleeting impression that he forgets the sight of his own face. No doubt the word is a mirror, revealing precisely what we are. That word should have a lasting impression, so that our exposed faults would be corrected, not forgotten.
Verse 25 further interprets the mirror as "the perfect law of liberty." This refers to the word of God that has produced a new nature in the believer, not a law of bondage, but of a new life, spontaneous, vital, free; a law without legality. This word shows us what we truly are as begotten of God by grace, and, continuing in this blessed liberty of grace, one is not forgetful, but responsive in doing the work consistent with his new nature: he is blessed in his doing. Others may wrongly emphasize doing as though it was the means of eternal blessing from God: he rather delights in the perfect law of liberty, and he is presently blessed in his doing, which is a result of his enjoyment of the grace of God.
The reality of this is tested in v.26. One might seem religious, for many there are who put on such a cloak; but if he does not keep his tongue under proper control, his religion is void of value. Judaism was called "the Jews' religion," for religion is that which "binds" one to a certain course of action. Christianity is rather a setting free from bondage. Verse 27 does not describe Christianity, but it does describe pure religion, and certainly Christianity has this in common with "pure religion," though Christianity is much more. The positive side of pure religion is genuine care for those in trial, the fatherless and widows. The negative side is keeping oneself from contamination by a world of evil. These things are certainly an elementary part of Christianity, which gives motives of faith and love to act upon, rather than merely a sense of responsibility, as is the case with religion. Yet, whatever our motives may be, responsibility does not change.
The first 13 verses of this chapter form a second division of the book, dealing with the faith of Christ as being above all personal considerations, perfectly true and impartial. To mix the faith of Christ therefore with a partial respect for persons, is a matter here strongly reproved. For Christ is Lord of glory, and we answerable directly to Him, not to mere men, wealthy or otherwise.
Verse 2 shows that Jewish believers were at that time still connected with the synagogue, for the word translated "assembly" is correctly given in the margin as "synagogue." Apparent dignity and wealth in the world always gives one preferential treatment; but it must not be so among those who know the Lord Jesus Christ. It is still a test for us today as to what we should do if one manifestly wealthy and another evidently poor entered a meeting. Would we be as considerate of the one as of the other? And is it so in our daily relationships with men?
If it is true that we show any preference to one above another, then we are solemnly asked, are we not in ourselves partial, and become judges with evil thoughts? If a judge does not judge righteously, then it is inescapable that his thoughts are evil.
And James calls our serious attention to the fact that God has chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith. It is of course not that God discriminates against the rich; for His Gospel is impartially declared to all. However, it is the poor who receive it, while the rich generally see no need of it. Consequently it is the poor who are blessed by it. And God honors the riches of their faith: they become heirs of the kingdom, for they love Him. How vastly more important is faith and love than all the wealth of the world!
But he charges them with despising the poor: he does not of course imply that every individual was guilty of this, but it was too prevalent a matter. Let them consider: rich men were very often their oppressors, by whom they themselves had suffered. Indeed, men can often strongly criticize the rich for their greed, but not to their faces: in fact the same men will show favoritism to the rich above the poor!
The rich too are more free in their despite against the worthy Name of the Lord Jesus: among the Jews this was clearly seen. Can these be preferred above the more lowly poor?
Verse 8 designates as "the royal law" the Scripture, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." This summarizes the last six of the ten commandments: the first four would no doubt be priestly in character, rather than royal, for they are toward God. Royal character however is that which bears testimony toward men. And genuine love for neighbors will seek their greatest good: it is impartial, and concerned for the purest blessing of its object. If it is merely my rich neighbor I love, this is not proper love at all: I expose my selfish motives. Respect of persons is both sin and transgression of the law, which Jews highly regarded.
For even one point of this kind, of disobedience to law, rendered one guilty of breaking the entire law. The law is one, though of course expressed in ten commandments: if one link of a chain is broken, then the chain is broken. It is the same God who forbids both adultery and murder; and though one is not guilty of one of these, yet if guilty of the other, he is guilty of disobedience to the same God: he has transgressed the law.
Verse 12 then exhorts that, whether in speaking or in acting, we should do so as expecting to be judged by the law of liberty. Ch.1:25 has used this expression, which is in contrast to the law of Moses, which was a law of bondage. The law of liberty is rather the ruling principle of a new nature as begotten by the word of God. Indeed, Christ Himself is the perfect exemplification of this nature, and thus its standard is of that a spontaneous, wholehearted, willing obedience.
Mercy toward others was a precious characteristic of this life in the Person of Christ: His spirit was far from that of legality; but one who shows no mercy can only expect judgment without mercy. This is true even in men's judgments one of another. "And mercy glories over judgment." (New Trans.) Mercy has a precious nobility about it that, when possible to be shown, is superior to judgment. Even God does not judge before He has exhausted every avenue by which He may righteously show mercy. If this is so, what of ourselves, who are not only given no position whatever of judges, but have been the recipients of the infinitely marvelous mercy of God, though totally unworthy of any such thing?
Verse 14 begins another division of the book, in which it is insisted that faith is manifested by works. Faith is not by any means belittled, but its reality is questionable if it is not accompanied by fruitful works. If a man says he has faith, this is of no value apart from consistent works. That kind of faith will not save him from the many pitfalls by which hypocrites are snared.
The type of works that are the result of faith are clearly shown to us in this last half of Ch.2. Works of mercy are only normal and indeed elementary, as verses 15 and 16 show. Even unbelievers often recognize some responsibility to relieve those who suffer poverty and hunger. Should I then tell suffering believers that I have faith that they will be provided for, while myself giving them nothing? In these very things my faith is to be proven. If good works do not accompany it, then such faith is dead: it bears no fruit: it is alone, solitary, isolated from reality.
One may blandly say that he has faith, and another has works, as though these were merely differing gifts given of God. But it is a false and sinful premise. One cannot show his faith without works, but James says, "I will show thee my faith by my works." Certainly, God can see the reality of a man's faith; but men can see this only in a person's works. Before God one is justified by faith exclusively, without works (Romans 4:l-5); but he cannot show others his faith except by his works.
Verse 19 illustrates the emptiness of a so-called faith that merely gives assent to facts. This means nothing in itself if it produces no proper results. Demons admit there is one God, but they tremble in prospect of certain judgment. Jews and Mohammedans believe there is one God, but they find no salvation in this fact. That kind of faith, having no works to substantiate it, is dead, for it produces nothing.
We have seen in vs.15 and 16 that faith produces works of mercy toward others. Now in verses 21-23 we see produced in Abraham works of obedience to God. In Rahab (v.25) works of sanctification as to the world, are the fruit of her faith.
As to Abraham, long before he offered Isaac, God counted his faith as righteousness. (Gen.l5:6) He was then justified before God by faith alone. But later, for every eye interested, he was justified by works, when he willingly offered Isaac, his beloved son. Only by real, active faith could he have done this; what he did added nothing to his it proved it. If God had not commanded this, the offering of his son would have been gross wickedness, but he trusted God's word, though it was contrary to every right natural feeling. Faith wrought with his works, and by his works faith was seen in mature fruition.
Interestingly, verse 23 speaks of this as fulfilling the previous Scripture as to Abraham's being reckoned righteous because of his faith. God was proven to be right in regard to Abraham's faith, for the later experience proved it. Precious indeed it is that he is called "the friend of God," because his actions showed him to have total confidence in God's faithfulness.
In receiving the spies, Rahab would be in the world's eyes guilty of treachery, but she recognized the far higher authority of the God of Israel, and acted by faith in Him, Faith's reality is seen in her protecting the spies; though her lying to the city officials shows the weakness of her faith. God used all of this, though we know not what miracle God might have wrought for her, had her faith been more bold.
V.26 declares what death is: the body without the spirit is dead, left helpless, useless, repelling, not extinct, but devoid of the power that once animated it: it is left alone. Such is the case of the so-called faith that has no works to accompany it.
Here we begin a fourth division of the book, which continues to the end of Ch.4; in which our walk is tested by the circumstances of the world. Certainly in the previous chapters there is emphasis also on practical life; but there connected with its proper motive of faith in the living God. Now we no longer see faith mentioned, but evident outward conduct.
Not all are teachers in the sense of having that special gift; and it is a dangerous thing for one to assume himself a teacher who is not he is exposed to the greater judgment. Of course, older women are told to be "teachers of good things" (Titus 2:13); and any believer can teach in measure that which he has truly learned; but this gives no-one the right to assume that he has the gift of teaching. It is only right that a teacher should (here on earth) be subjected to serious judgment as to his teaching, and as to whether his practice is consistent with his teaching.
"For in many things we all offend." It is not that this is necessary, but it takes godly self-judgment and wisdom to teach properly without offense, for it is a natural tendency to offend, specially so in our words. one who in this way does not offend is "perfect" in the sense of mature, and able to control his entire body. This ought to be true of a teacher, and indeed of every experienced believer, but generally it is not true without some painful experience.
Two striking illustrations are given us of the control of the tongue. A bit put in a horse's mouth is remarkable for its ability to control so large and strong an animal. At least by this means its driver is able to secure its obedience. So also we should be able to control ourselves in our bridling so small a thing as our tongue. Ships also, of tremendous size, are easily turned by the manipulation of a very small rudder, the helmsman able to turn the wheel with only a finger. Driven though they may be with fierce winds, yet there is amazing control exerted over them by almost effortless control of the wheel.
But if the horse driver or the helmsman give up control, and leave the horse or the ship to its own devices, then tragedy is practically certain. Just so, the tongue, if not controlled by its owner, can do terrible damage rather than exert a great influence for good. Allow it to act merely according to man's natural tendency, and it will boast great things. It is not restrained, and becomes as a small fire rapidly spreading in every direction.
The tongue is certainly a proof of the incurable evil of the heart of man. It need not be so virulent, but even the most honorable believer has reason to retract, or at least regret, things he has allowed to slip out of his mouth. Verse 6 shows what the tongue is if allowed to act without restraint, -- a fire, a world of iniquity, defiling the whole body, fanning into a devouring flame the evil of man's nature. The expression "and it is set on fire of hell" is solemnly arresting. Except for this one instance, the word "Gehenna" (the Greek word for "hell") was used by the Lord alone when He was on earth. It refers to the eternal torment of the lake of fire. How solemn a warning of the dreadful torment that can be caused by a careless tongue!
A believer, by the power of the Spirit of God, may "bridle" his tongue, that is, put it under restraint; and this is surely a serious responsibility; but let no-one persuade himself that he has tamed his tongue; or he will almost certainly have painful occasion to find in experience that it is still "an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." Therefore it needs constant guarding and restraining.
How little we stop to think that with the same tongue we may heartily bless God, yet speak badly of men, whom God has created in his own likeness. The inconsistency of this should be a shame to us; yet who is not at some time guilty of it? Let us take to heart the exhortation that these things ought not to be, and seek grace to unsparingly judge any "speaking unadvisedly with our lips." For this very thing Moses was deprived of entering, into the land. (Num.20:12; Ps.106:32,33)
In verses 11 and 12 James appeals to creation itself to show its consistency in contrast to the unbecoming treachery of the tongue. A fountain always produces the same type of water; and the fig tree produces only figs, the vine also according to its character. In all of this, let us note that James speaks only of what is outwardly manifest. Elsewhere we are told the reason that both good and evil proceed from the same person. The "Spirit of God, given to every believer, produces only good; yet the flesh, derived from Adam, produces evil. But we have no excuse for allowing the flesh to act, for the Spirit is infinitely superior to the flesh: we need only to bow to the Lord's authority, and to "walk in the Spirit," and the power of the Spirit will be operative in us. James does not speak of this, but places responsibility rightly on our own shoulders. Therefore, though the tongue cannot be tamed, yet we are called upon to govern it.
This leads to the consideration of wisdom, for the use of the tongue is one of the first marks of wisdom or folly. Is one wise and intelligent? Let him show it in his conversation, which involves more than his words, but his entire manner of life, for "him works" are added here. Compare David, who "behaved himself wisely in all his ways." 1 Sam.18:l4. This is not said of Solomon, though he possessed such wisdom. But the expression "with meekness of wisdom" is most striking, for it is a common thing that man's knowledge tends to puff up his pride. But true wisdom produces meekness, which Involves in up a self-judgment that seeks no self-exaltation, but recognizes God's rights as supreme over ourselves.
But however great one's knowledge, if there is bitter envying and strife in the heart, this kind of wisdom is not from above. For true. wisdom would lead us to unsparingly judge such motives. Notice too that envy and strife lead to boasting and lying against the truth. For these things stem from one's pride, and the truth speaks decidedly against self-exaltation: therefore if I justify my pride, I lie against the truth.
Yet man's wisdom is always permeated by his pride. Such wisdom is earthly in contrast to heavenly sensual (or "soulish") in contrast to spiritual; devilish in contract to Christ-like. Being earthly, it is merely transient being sensual, it is largely energized by mere human desire and feelings being devilish, it is deceptive with deadly danger.
Envy involves both personal selfishness and ill-feeling toward another. Strife therefore accompanies it. This in turn overthrows all proper equilibrium: disorder prevails, and leaves the door open for "every evil work." It is by this means that Satanic activity thrives.
Precious is the contrast in verses 17 and 18. Here is wisdom readily available for every child of God, wisdom as seen in Him who came down from Heaven, the beloved Son of God. And no doubt in verse 17 are the seven pillars of wisdom, those only mentioned in Prov.9:1. It is first pure, that is, totally free from all contamination, no admixture of impurity. Then peaceable, having the calm sweetness of concord that banishes contention. "Gentle:" the grace of lowly consideration of the feelings and needs of others. "Easy to be entreated" indicates the humility that yields, rather than the stubbornness of self-assurance: that is, it will yield personal rights: it would certainly not give up the truth of God.
Completing the seven pillars of wisdom in this verses "full of mercy" is the hearty, compassionate care of those in need: "and good fruits" are those virtues spontaneously active, with no forcing. "Without partiality" is giving no preference to one above another, no favoring relatives or special friends. And finally, "without hypocrisy" involves the simple honesty of not attempting to give wrong or dubious impressions.
For the fruit of righteousness can only come from proper sowing Fruit is not forced or sudden. A character that truly seeks peace will have its good fruits in righteousness. On the other hand, mere insistence on righteousness will never accomplish righteousness. How good therefore to seek those things that make for peace, which can certainly be done without compromising righteousness. This is wisdom from above.
This chapter, to the end of v.6, continues the subject begun in Ch.3:13. Sensual. devilish wisdom was accompanied by wars and fightings: but this proceeded from the lusts of the flesh active within the hearts of men. We must remember that James is not addressing the assembly of God, but Jews in the synagogue who at least acknowledged the Name of Jesus. It would be most abnormal and reprehensible if any assembly of saints of God were guilty of such contention.
The flesh here is exposed in its repulsive characters there is unfulfilled lust, the viciousness of virtual murder in putting another out of the way, because filled with envy; and at the same time frustration with murmuring and contention. Yet how foolish and unnecessary is all of this! "Ye have not because ye ask not." A quiet spirit of dependent faith that simply asks of God will unquestionably be answered.
But on the other hand, one may ask and receive not. Why? Because it is not faith, but fleshly desire that moves him; and if he gets what he wants, God knows it would be damaging to his own soul. Man Is lustful enough, without God also encouraging these lusts, by answering prayer of this kind.
Verse 4 is yet more rebuking to fleshly desire: those who indulge this are called adulteresses, for such desire makes them friends of a world at enmity with God: their faithfulness to the true God is compromised. It is a shameful denial of true Christian character for one who chooses to be a friend of the world is showing himself an enemy of God.
Verse 5 is more clearly given in the New Tanslation, "Think ye that the Scripture speaks In vain? Does the Spirit which has taken His abode in us desire enviously? James appeals first here to what we think of Scripture: is it truly of vital importance, or is it empty words? And secondly he appeals to the blessed fact of the dwelling of the Spirit of God in the believer. Can it be Himself in us who causes this envious desire? No it is an evil force, utterly contrary to Him, that we have allowed to work, if envy and strife are produced.
In contrast to such envy and strife, the Spirit of God gives "more grace" to overcome it. But if we do not find this grace, it is because of the pride of our own hearts, as the quotation from Proverbs 3:34 indicates. Pride of course involves confidence in self, and God cannot encourage this: but one who is humble recognizes his pressing need of the grace of God, and God gladly answers this.
But we shall not have an attitude of humility if we do not take the first step of submitting to God: the will must first be brought into subjection before it will be subject. This positive step of submission is deeply important for every believer. And on the other hand, there is that which should accompany it, the resisting of the devil. For pride is the chief weapon in the devil's armory, and it is from this that envy and strife proceed. We must therefore resist his flattering of our own pride.
If this is so, the hindrance will be removed as regards our drawing near to God; and here is where the preciousness of spiritual joy and strength is found. For God Himself will draw near to us. But this also immediately calls for the cleansing of our hands, if they have been in any way engaged in sin; and the purifying of our hearts, if there has been duplicity rather than single-mindedness.
Verse 9 may seem contradictory to Phil.4:4: "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice." But James is attacking the laughter and joy of fleshly exuberance, which has in it no true spiritual exercise. How much better to realize the seriousness of the sufferings of Christ, by which alone we are blessed, and to have our souls "afflicted" by this, in brokenness of heart before God. Indeed, it is only such self-judgment that will lead to pure spiritual joy. For as we honestly humble ourselves In the sight of the Lord, so in marvellous grace He will lift us up, and our rejoicing then will truly be "in the Lord."
Moreover, one who is not humbled in the sight of the Lord, is liable to speak evil of others. If we realize what we are ourselves, we should not be so hasty to criticize others. Honest concern for them is a different matter; but in speaking evil of another, one is speaking evil of the law. Why so? Because the Law is not so demanding as he is that the other should be immediately judged: therefore he is judging the law as though it were lax. The critic becomes the judge, rather than himself obedient to the law. Therefore if I judge another, my self-conceit exposes me to the judgment of the one Lawgiver. And notice too that He is not only able to destroy, but able to save.
But verse 13 reproves another matter that also stems from conceit, that is, the confidence in well-laid plans for the future, which depends upon personal wisdom end ability, and with material gain as the object. This is not taking the place of a child before Father, dependent and subject. For we actually know absolutely nothing as to the future. Even our entire life is as a. vapor, appearing momentarily, then vanishing: we have no control over it. Therefore, it is only wisdom to depend utterly upon the Lord, and always modify our plans by the sensible words, "If the Lord will."
It is too common for men to rejoice in anticipation of the fulfilment of their own plans, and to speak as though these things were perfectly certain. This is boasting, of course, and all such rejoicing is evil. How precious it is however, in contrast, to rejoice in hope of the glory of God!
In view of all these things in which true instruction is given as to doing good, let me take to heart the fact that it is one thing to recognize the truth and value of such instruction, and another thing entirely to do it. How deeply serious to consider that if I know how to do good, and neglect to do it, this is sin. Our great and gracious God is not guilty of the slightest ommission of this kind. Who can dare to claim sinless perfection for himself if he honestly considers this verse? Have we done all the good it was possible for us to do?
Verses 1 to 6 are addressed to rich men, and no doubt specially to those who make some claim of having the knowledge of God. They are bidden to weep and howl for the miseries that will take them, in contrast to their present living in luxury. How transient and empty are earthly richest God sees them as corrupted, decaying, and quickly at an end; and the garments of wealth as moth-eaten, not won from use, but from hanging, disused, in a closet.
The language here is sharp and scathing. When he speaks of gold and silver being cankered and rusted, it is of course the spiritual side of things of which he speaks: wealth is stored up with no concern for its proper use in relief of the needs of others, similar to the case of the wicked servant, who laid up the pound his master had entrusted to him, instead of making use of it. Such treasure, heaped together would be a witness against the wealthy in the last days of reckoning. And it would be as a consuming fire to their fleshly indulgence.
Verse 4 charges them with the oppression of laborers also, those whose work increases the riches of the employer, but are not given proper wages. God hears the cry of such. At their expense, the rich live in pleasure, indulging every selfish desire, nourishing not their spiritual life, but the lusts of their own hearts. It is like Nabal, satiated and drunken, at the time his sheep were shorn. 1 Sam.25:36. Others suffer and are killed, while the rich indulge in every luxury. And the just, as sheep led to the slaughter, do not resist.
The world is well-nigh full of such abuse. Let the Christian have no part in such guilt. If one is rich in this world's goods, let him be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to share what he has, with the genuine intention of pleasing God by the use of his abundance. (1 Tim.6:17-19)
Yet beginning with verse 7 we see the proper attitude of the believer in regard to these evils. If he is oppressed, he is not to fight or make what he considers righteous demands. He is to be patient. For how long? Until the coming of the Lord! This is the only real hope of the child of God. It is vain to hope that men will willingly cease from oppression unless they are truly brought to God. But a Christian may learn to bear oppression in proportion as he rejoices in hope of the glory of God.
The farmer expects no crop until the seed has time to sprout and gradually grows and God designs this long waiting time as a picture of the long patience He has in dealing with us, so as to bring forth eventually the fruit that He seeks. And we too are to have the same patient character. It is God who sends the rain, whether early or latter, at the time of proper need, to bring it fruition the work of His grace. We cannot either hasten or delay it, so it is our wisdom to act in both faith and patience. It is this that leads to a true stablishing of the heart in sound, dependable characters and we are exhorted to this, for the coming of the Lord has drawn near.
But not only was there danger of retaliating against the oppression of the rich; there is that also of brethren nourishing a spirit of complaint against one another. But this is taking the place of judge, and the only true Judge stands ready to judge all that is wrongs and we may find that, because of our judging, we are exposed to judgment ourselves. This is not eternal judgment, of course, but that here and now.
We need patience in every direction, and in verse 10 are referred to prophets in the past, who have spoken in the Name of the Lord. Almost none of them was without persecution and affliction, and the patience with which they bore it is certainly an example for us.
Real happiness is not found in having everything favorable, but in enduring tribulation patiently. And the patience of Job to commended to us as an example. This was not primarily suffering from men, but from circumstances of adversity, though men added to it, some who despised him simply because he was down, others (his friends) who accused him unjustly. Job's patience at first was more commendable than later on, when he bitterly complained; yet he did endure until God showed to him what was "the end of the Lord," that is, the object the Lord had in mind in allowing all his affliction. The end proved that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy. So it will prove in every cases
"But above all things, my brethren swear not." It may seem strange that this negative is stressed above all others; but this is a vital New Testament teaching in contrast to the Old Testament. The dispensation of law proves man to be sinful and untrustworthy. Tested under a system where oaths and vows were allowed, he proved himself without strength to perform. The Lord Jesus therefore in Matt.5:33-37 solemnly forbid these things. Actually only God has a right to swear by heaven or by earths or by anything else, for He made them. Let me therefore remember to keep the creature place in confessed weakness: for to add the emphasis of an oath to our words is actually a mark of unseemly prides and places us in danger of falling into present judgment.
Now we have simple advice as regards the circumstances of daily life. If there is the trial of affliction, let one pray. This itself is a source of comfort and relief, for God's presence is realized where there is simple, unaffected prayer. Does one's heart overflow with rejoicing? Then to sing Psalms is a precious outlet for this.
If in sickness, one here is told to call for the elders of the assembly, that they may pray over him, and anoint him with oil in the Name of the Lord. We must remember of course that this epistle was written to Israelites at the introduction of the present dispensation of grace, when elders had been appointed in each assembly by the apostles. (Cf.Acts 14:23) After the church was established, there was no provision for the continuance of this appointing of elders, so that there are none definitely marked out as such today. Of course there is no doubt that there are still men who have the characteristics that make them elders in reality, though not as appointed to such office. As to the anointing with oil, Israelites would attach special significance to this, as in the case of the cleansed leper. Lev.14:16-18.
It seems very clear therefore that these instructions in the book of James were intended specifically for Jewish believers in the early church, for they could not possibly be a pattern for saints to follow down through the history of the church until now. On the other hand, John is the last of all the writers of Scripture, and he also gives Instruction as regards prayer for the sick, with assurance of the Lord hearing, so long as we ask according to His will. And in this case, he says nothing at all of calling for the elders, or of anointing one with oil. And of course he writes to all believers, the entire family of Gods so that we may fully take this for the day in which we lives and count much upon God in dependent, believing prayer.
Though these early Jewish believers were, in the case of sickness, instructed to call for the elders of the assembly, who would both pray over them and anoint them with oil in the Name of the Lord, yet let us observe that it is the prayer of faith, not the anointing, that saves the sick. This salvation of course is the delivering of one from his sickness. If his sickness was the result of having committed sins, this would be forgiven. John however (1 John 5:l2-15) stipulates that if one had "sinned unto death," no recovery could be therefore it would not be faith to pray for his recovery. No doubt in every case some spiritual discernment would be required as to whether we could pray in faith; for this would no doubt involve not only the sin committed, but the circumstances and the motives connected with this.
Therefore it is becoming for saints to confess their offenses to one another, as matters requiring prayerful help; and while the healing here may be primarily that of recovery from illness, yet spiritual recovery is certainly just as needful. And in both directions "the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." What an incentive to a walk of practical righteousness, end also to unceasing, earnest prayer!
The example of Elias (Elijah) is a striking one. His nature was no different than ours (indeed he proved himself subject to discouragement and complaining): yet in faith he prayed earnestly that it might not rain. This is certainly a most unusual prayer (prayer for rain is generally more understandable); but he discerned the evil state of his nation to be such as required drastic measures, and there is no doubt that it was God who directed him in his prayer, and then restrained the rain for three and a half years.
And Elijah waited all this time before praying that the rain might fall again. Yet we must not think that the power was simply in his prayer. Rather, his prayer was subject to the Word of God, in which the power actually liest as Elijah himself declares, "I have done all these things at Thy word." (1 Kings 18:36) Dependent prayer will both lead to understanding the Word of God, and desiring that God's will should be carried out. Notice too the long wait before the prayer resulted in blessing "the earth brought forth her fruit." True prayer is not impatient, but can calmly wait upon God.
Now the epistle ends as practically as it begins. While games has given urgent exhortation as to our obeying the truth of God, yet now he faces the fact that saints do not always take such exhortation to heart. If this is the case, however, and one wanders from the truth, there is good work that another can do. By means of the truth itself, one may help in the recovery of another. This principle applies whether the wanderer has never been saved in the first place, or whether he is a believer. If by grace we are able to convert (or turn around) a sinner from the error of his way, this both saves a soul from death, and hides a multitude of sins, He is speaking herd of physical death, just as in Ezekiel l8:4: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." The term "soul" is used for the person, rather than the entity within him, also called "soul." Compare also 1 Pet.3:20. Indulging in sin may lead one to a premature grave, as 1 John 5:l6 shows us. Also, when one sin is indulged, it is practically bound to lead to what is worse, "a multitude of sins." The Lord give His saints diligence to engage wholeheartedly in this good work of both caring for souls, and covering sins. As though not to take away the force of this, nothing is added by way even of a closing sentence.