(3) James, “the Lord’s brother” (ο αδελφο’ς του Κυρίου, ho adelphós toú Kuríou).
I. New Testament References
1. In the Gospels
This James is mentioned by name only twice in the Gospels, i.e. when, on the visit of Jesus to Nazareth, the countrymen of our Lord referred in contemptuous terms to His earthly kindred, in order to disparage His preaching (Mat_13:55; Mar_6:3). As James was one of “his brethren,” he was probably among the group of Christ’s relatives who sought to interview Him during His tour through Galilee with the Twelve (Mat_12:46). By the same reasoning, he accompanied Jesus on His journey to Capernaum (Joh_2:12), and joined in attempting to persuade Him to depart from Galilee for Judea on the eve of the Feast of Tabernacles (Joh_7:3). At this feast James was present (Joh_7:10), but was at this time a non-believer in Jesus (compare Joh_7:5, “Even his brethren did not believe on him”).
2. In the Epistles
Yet the seeds of conversion were being sown within him, for, after the crucifixion, he remained in Jerusalem with his mother and brethren, and formed one of that earliest band of believers who “with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer” (Act_1:14). While there, he probably took part in the election of Matthias to the vacant apostleship (Act_1:15-25). James was one of the earliest witnesses to the resurrection, for, after the risen Lord had manifested Himself to the five hundred, “he was seen of James” (1Co_15:7 the King James Version). By this his growing belief and prayerful expectancy received confirmation. About 37 or 38 ad, James, “the Lord’s brother” (Gal_1:19), was still in Jerusalem, and had an interview there for the first time with Paul, when the latter returned from his 3 years’ sojourn in Damascus to visit Cephas, or Peter (Gal_1:18, Gal_1:19; compare Act_9:26). In several other passages the name of James is coupled with that of Peter. Thus, when Peter escaped from prison (about 44 ad), he gave instructions to those in the house of John Mark that they should immediately inform “James and the brethren” of the manner of his escape (Act_12:17). By the time of the Jerusalem convention, i.e. about 51 ad (compare Gal_2:1), James had reached the position of first overseer in the church (compare Act_15:13, Act_15:19). Previous to this date, during Paul’s ministry at Antioch, he had dispatched certain men thither to further the mission, and the teaching of these had caused dissension among the newly converted Christians and their leaders (Act_15:1, Act_15:2; Gal_2:12). The conduct of Peter, over whom James seems to have had considerable influence, was the principal matter of contention (compare Gal_2:11). However, at the Jerusalem convention the dispute was amicably settled, and the pillars of the church, James, John and Cephas, gave to Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship (Gal_2:9). The speech of James on this occasion (Acts 15:13-29), his sympathy with the religious needs of the Gentile world (Act_15:17), his desire that formalism should raise no barrier to their moral and spiritual advancement (Act_15:19, Act_15:20, Act_15:28, Act_15:29), and his large-hearted tributes to the “beloved Barnabas and Paul” (Act_15:25, Act_15:26), indicate that James was a leader in whom the church was blessed, a leader who loved peace more than faction, the spirit more than the law, and who perceived that religious communities with different forms of observance might still live and work together in common allegiance to Christ. Once more (58 ad), James was head of the council at Jerusalem when Paul made report of his labors, this time of his 3rd missionary Journey (Act_21:17). At this meeting Paul was admonished for exceeding the orders he had received at the first council, in that he had endeavored to persuade the converted Jews also to neglect circumcision (Act_21:21), and was commanded to join in the vow of purification (Act_21:23-26). There is no Scriptural account of the death of James. From 1Co_9:5 it has been inferred that he was married. This is, however, only a conjecture, as the passage refers to those who “lead about a sister, a wife” (the King James Version), while, so far as we know, James remained throughout his life in Jerusalem.
This James has been regarded as the author of the Epistle of James, “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”
II. References in Apocryphal Literature
James figures in one of the miraculous events recorded in the Gnostic “Gospel of the Infancy, by Thomas the Israelite philosopher,” being cured of a snake-bite by the infant Jesus (compare Hennecke, Handbuch zu den neutestamentlichen Apokryphen, 73). According to the Gospel of the Hebrews (compare ib, 11-21), James had also partaken of the cup of the Lord, and refused to eat till he had seen the risen Lord. Christ acknowledged this tribute by appearing to James first. In the Acts of Peter (compare Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, II, 475), it is stated that “three days after the ascension of our Lord into heaven, James, whom our Lord called his ‘brother in the flesh,’ consecrated the Offering and we all drew nigh to partake thereof: and when ten days had passed after the ascension of our Lord, we all assembled in the holy fortress of Zion, and we stood up to say the prayer of sanctification, and we made supplication unto God and besought Him with humility, and James also entreated Him concerning the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Offering.” The Preaching of James the Just (compare Budge, II, 78-81) tells of the appointment of James to the bishopric of Jerusalem, of his preaching, healing of the sick and casting out of devils there. This is confirmed by the evidence of Clement of Alexandria (Euseb., HE, II, 1). In the Martyrdom of James the Just (compare Budge, II, 82-89), it is stated that J., “the youngest of the sons of Joseph,” alienated, by his preaching, Piobsata from her husband Ananus, the governor of Jerusalem. Ananus therefore inflamed the Jews against James, and they hurled him down from off the pinnacle of the temple. Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, II, 23), and Josephus (Ant., XX, ix, 1), testify to the general truth of this. It is thus probable that James was martyred about 62 or 63 ad.
Besides the epistle which bears his name, James was also the reputed author of the Protevangelium Jacobi, a work which originated in the 2nd century and received later additions.
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, Act_8:1, etc.; Act_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, Est_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, Act_2:5, Act_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, Act_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 Act_15:23; Act_23:26; 2Jo_1:11.
James, a servant of God – On the meaning of the word “servant” in this connection, see the note at Rom_1:1. Compare the note at Phm_1:16. It is remarkable that James does not call himself an apostle; but this does not prove that the writer of the Epistle was not an apostle, for the same omission occurs in the Epistle of John, and in the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, the Thessalonians, and to Philemon. It is remarkable, also, considering the relation which James is supposed to have borne to the Lord Jesus as his “brother” (Gal_1:19; Introduction, 1). That he did not refer to that as constituting a ground of claim to his right to address others; but this is only one instance out of many, in the New Testament, in which it is regarded as a higher honor to be the “servant of God,” and to belong to his family, than to sustain any relations of blood or kindred. Compare Mat_11:50. It may be observed also (Compare the introduction, Section 1), that this term is one which was especially appropriate to James, as a man eminent for his integrity. His claim to respect and deference was not primarily founded on any relationship which he sustained; any honor of birth or blood; or even any external office, but on the fact that he was a “servant of God.”
And of the Lord Jesus Christ – The “servant of the Lord Jesus,” is an appellation which is often given to Christians, and particularly to the ministers of religion. They are his servants, not in the sense that they are slaves, but in the sense that they voluntarily obey his will, and labor for him, and not for themselves.
To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad – Greek “The twelve tribes which are in the dispersion,” or of the dispersion (ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ en tē diaspora). This word occurs only here and in 1Pe_1:1, and Joh_7:35. It refers properly to those who lived out of Palestine, or who were scattered among the Gentiles. There were two great “dispersions;” the Eastern and the Western. The first had its origin about the time when the ten tribes were carried away to Assyria, and in the time of the Babylonian captivity. In consequence of these events, and of the fact that large numbers of the Jews went to Babylon, and other Eastern countries, for purposes of travel, commerce, etc., there were many Jews in the East in the times of the apostles. The other was the Western “dispersion,” which commenced about the time of Alexander the Great, and which was promoted by various causes, until there were large numbers of Jews in Egypt and along Northern Africa, in Asia Minor, in Greece proper, and even in Rome. To which of these classes this Epistle was directed is not known; but most probably the writer had particular reference to those in the East. See the introduction, Section 2. The phrase “the twelve tribes,” was the common term by which the Jewish people were designated, and was in use long after the ten tribes were carried away, leaving, in fact, only two of the twelve in Palestine. Compare the notes at Act_26:7. Many have supposed that James here addressed them as Jews, and that the Epistle was sent to them as such. But this opinion has no probability; because:
(1) If this had been the case, he would not have been likely to begin his Epistle by saying that he was “a servant of Jesus Christ,” a name so odious to the Jews.
(2) and, if he had spoken of himself as a Christian, and had addressed his countrymen as himself a believer in Jesus as the Messiah, though regarding them as Jews, it is incredible that he did not make a more distinct reference to the principles of the Christian religion; that he used no arguments to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah; that he did not attempt to convert them to the Christian faith.
It should be added, that at first most converts were made from those who had been trained in the Jewish faith, and it is not improbable that one in Jerusalem, addressing those who were Christians out of Palestine, would naturally think of them as of Jewish origin, and would be likely to address them as appertaining to the “twelve tribes.” The phrase “the twelve tribes” became also a sort of technical expression to denote the people of God – the church.
Greeting – A customary form of salutation, meaning, in Greek, to joy, to rejoice; and implying that he wished their welfare. Compare Act_15:23.
Ver. 1. — SALUTATION. James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is noteworthy that he keeps entirely out of sight his natural relationship to our Lord, and styles himself simply “a bond-servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That, and that alone, gave him a right to speak and a claim to be heard. Dou~lov is similarly used by St. Paul in Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1 by St. Peter in 2 Peter 1:1; and by St. Jude ver. 1. It is clearly an official designation, implying that his office is one “in which, not his own will, not the will of other men, but only of God and of Christ, is to be performed” (Huther).
To the twelve tribes, etc. Compare the salutation in Acts 15:23, which was also probably written by St. James: “The apostles and the elder brethren unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia, greeting.”
(1)Charein is common to both, and not found elsewhere in apostolic greetings. (It is used by Ignatius in the opening of all his epistles except that to the Philadelphians.)
(2) The letter in the Acts is addressed to Gentile communities in definite regions; St. James’s Epistle, to Jews of the dispersion. So also his contemporary Gamaliel wrote “to the sons of the dispersion in Babylonia, and to our brethren in Media, and to all the dispersion of Israel” (Frankel, ‘Monatsschrift,’ 1853, p. 413). Acts 26:7; Clem., ‘Rom,’ l, § 55.; ‘Prefer. Jacob.,’ c.i.). Such expressions are important as tending to show that the Jews were regarded as representing, not simply the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, but the whole nation, including those so often spoken of as “the lost tribes” (cf. 1 Esdr. 7:8). Diaspora|~. The abstract put for the concrete. It is the word used by the LXX. for the “dispersion” (2 Macc. 1:27; Jud. 5:19; cf. Deuteronomy 28:25, etc.), i.e. the Jews “so scattered among the nations as to become the seed of a future harvest” (Westcott on St.John 7:35). (On the importance of the dispersion as preparing the way for Christianity, see the ‘Dictionary of the Bible,’ vol. 1. p. 44:1.) It was divided into three great sections:
(1)the Babylonian, i.e. the original dispersion;
(2)the Syrian, dating from the Greek conquests in Asia, Seleucus Nicator having transplanted largo bodies of Jews from Babylonia to the capitals of his Western provinces;
(3)the Egyptian, the Jewish settlements in Alexandria, established by Alexander and Ptolemy I., and thence spreading along the north coast of Africa. To these we should, perhaps, add a fourth
(4)the Roman, consequent upon the occupation of Jerusalem by Pompey, B.C. 63. All these four divisions were represented in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:8-11) — a fact which will help to account for St. James’s letter. The whole expression, “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad,” makes it perfectly clear that St. James is writing to Jews, and to those beyond the borders of Palestine.
James (Iakobos). Grecised form (nominative absolute) of the Hebrew Iakob (so lxx). Common name among the Jews, and this man in Josephus (Ant. XX.9.1) and three others of this name in Josephus also.
Servant (doulos). Bond-servant or slave as Paul (Rom_1:1; Phi_1:1; Tit_1:1).
Of the Lord Jesus Christ (kuriou Iesou Christou). Here on a par with God (theou) and calls himself not adelphos (brother) of Jesus, but doulos. The three terms here as in Jam_2:1 have their full significance: Jesus is the Messiah and Lord. James is not an Ebionite. He accepts the deity of Jesus his brother, difficult as it was for him to do so. The word kurios is frequent in the lxx for Elohim and Jahweh as the Romans applied it to the emperor in their emperor worship. See 1Co_12:3 for Kurios Iesous and Phi_2:11 for Kurios Iesous Christos.
To the twelve tribes (tais dodeka phulais). Dative case. The expression means “Israel in its fulness and completeness” (Hort), regarded as a unity (Act_26:7) with no conception of any “lost” tribes.
Which are of the Dispersion (tais en tei diasporai). “Those in the Dispersion” (repeated article). The term appears in Deu_28:25 (lxx) and comes from diaspeiro, to scatter (sow) abroad. In its literal sense we have it in Joh_7:34, but here and in 1Pe_1:1 Christian Jews are chiefly, if not wholly, in view. The Jews at this period were roughly divided into Palestinian Jews (chiefly agriculturists) and Jews of the Dispersion (dwellers in cities and mainly traders). In Palestine Aramaic was spoken as a rule, while in the Western Diaspora the language was Greek (Koiné, lxx), though the Eastern Diaspora spoke Aramaic and Syriac. The Jews of the Diaspora were compelled to compare their religion with the various cults around them (comparative religion) and had a wider outlook on life. James writes thus in cultural Koiné but in the Hebraic tone.
Greeting (chairein). Absolute infinitive (present active of chairo) as in Act_15:23 (the Epistle to Antioch and the churches of Syria and Galatia). It is the usual idiom in the thousands of papyri letters known to us, but in no other New Testament letter. But note chairein legete in 2Jo_1:10, 2Jo_1:11.
2All joy. The first exhortation is, to bear trials with a cheerful mind. And it was especially necessary at that time to comfort the Jews, almost overwhelmed as they were with troubles. For the very name of the nation was so infamous, that they were hated and despised by all people wherever they went; and their condition as Christians rendered them still more miserable, because they held their own nation as their most inveterate enemies. At the same time, this consolation was not so suited to one time, but that it is always useful to believers, whose life is a constant warfare on earth.
But that we may know more fully what he means, we must doubtless take temptations or trials as including all adverse things; and they are so called, because they are the tests of our obedience to God. He bids the faithful, while exercised with these, to rejoice; and that not only when they fall into one temptation, but into many, not only of one kind, but of various kinds. And doubtless, since they serve to mortify our flesh, as the vices of the flesh continually shoot up in us, so they must necessarily be often repeated. Besides, as we labor under diseases, so it is no wonder that different remedies are applied to remove them.
The Lord then afflicts us in various ways, because ambition, avarice, envy, gluttony, intemperance, excessive love of the world, and the innumerable lusts in which we abound, cannot be cured by the same medicine.
When he bids us to count it all joy, it is the same as though he had said, that temptations ought to be so deemed as gain, as to be regarded as occasions of joy. He means, in short, that there is nothing in afflictions which ought to disturb our joy. And thus, he not only commands us to bear adversities calmly, and with an even mind, but shews us that this is a reason why the faithful should rejoice when pressed down by them.
It is, indeed, certain, that all the senses of our nature are so formed, that every trial produces in us grief and sorrow; and no one of us can so far divest himself of his nature as not to grieve and be sorrowful whenever he feels any evil. But this does not prevent the children of God to rise, by the guidance of the Spirit, above the sorrow of the flesh. Hence it is, that in the midst of trouble they cease not to rejoice.
Count it (hegesasthe). First aorist middle imperative of hegeomai, old verb to consider. Do it now and once for all.
All joy (pasan charan). “Whole joy,” “unmixed joy,” as in Phi_2:29. Not just “some joy” along with much grief.
When (hotan). “Whenever,” indefinite temporal conjunction.
Ye fall into (peripesete). Second aorist active subjunctive (with the indefinite hotan) from peripipto, literally to fall around (into the midst of), to fall among as in Luk_10:30 leistais periepesen (he fell among robbers). Only other N.T. example of this old compound is in Act_27:41. Thucydides uses it of falling into affliction. It is the picture of being surrounded (peri) by trials.
Manifold temptations (peirasmois poikilois). Associative instrumental case. The English word temptation is Latin and originally meant trials whether good or bad, but the evil sense has monopolized the word in our modern English, though we still say “attempt.” The word peirasmos (from peirazo, late form for the old peirao as in Act_26:21, both in good sense as in Joh_6:6, and in bad sense as in Mat_16:1) does not occur outside of the lxx and the N.T. except in Dioscorides (a.d. 100?) of experiments on diseases. “Trials” is clearly the meaning here, but the evil sense appears in Jam_1:12 (clearly in peirazo in Jam_1:13) and so in Heb_3:8. Trials rightly faced are harmless, but wrongly met become temptations to evil. The adjective poikilos (manifold) is as old as Homer and means variegated, many coloured as in Mat_4:24; 2Ti_3:6; Heb_2:4. In 1Pe_1:6 we have this same phrase. It is a bold demand that James here makes.
3Knowing this, that the trying. We now see why he called adversities trials or temptations, even because they serve to try our faith. And there is here a reason given to confirm the last sentence. For it might, on the other hand, be objected, “How comes it, that we judge that sweet which to the sense is bitter?” He then shews by the effect that we ought to rejoice in afflictions, because they produce fruit that ought to be highly valued, even patience. If God then provides for our salvation, he affords us an occasion of rejoicing. Peter uses a similar argument at the beginning of his first Epistle, “That the trial of your faith, more precious than gold, may be,” etc. [1Pe_1:7.] We certainly dread diseases, and want, and exile, and prison, and reproach, and death, because we regard them as evils; but when we understand that they are turned through God’s kindness unto helps and aids to our salvation, it is ingratitude to murmur, and not willingly to submit to be thus paternally dealt with.
Paul says, in Rom_5:3, that we are to glory in tribulations; and James says here, that we are to rejoice. “We glory,” says Paul, “in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience.” What immediately follows seems contrary to the words of James; for he mentions probation in the third place, as the effect of patience, which is here put first as though it were the cause. But the solution is obvious; the word there has an active, but here a passive meaning. Probation or trial is said by James to produce patience; for were not God to try us, but leave us free from trouble, there would be no patience, which is no other thing than fortitude of mind in bearing evils. But Paul means, that while by enduring we conquer evils, we experience how much God’s help avails in necessities; for then the truth of God is as it were in reality manifested to us. Hence it comes that we dare to entertain more hope as to futurity; for the truth of God, known by experience, is more fully believed by us. Hence Paul teaches that by such a probation, that is, by such an experience of divine grace, hope is produced, not that hope then only begins, but that it increases and is confirmed. But both mean, that tribulation is the means by which patience is produced.
Moreover, the minds of men are not so formed by nature, that affliction of itself produces patience in them. But Paul and Peter regard not so much the nature of men as the providence of God through which it comes, that the faithful learn patience from troubles; for the ungodly are thereby more and more provoked to madness, as the example of Pharaoh proves.
Ver. 3. — Patience. Upomonh> in general is patience with regard to things, makroqumi>a is rather long-suffering with regard to persons.
4But let patience have her perfect work.As boldness and courage often appear in us and soon fail, he therefore requires perseverance. “Real patience,” he says, “is that which endures to the end.” For workhere means the effort not only to overcome in one contest, but to persevere through life. His perfection may also he referred to the sincerity of the soul, that men ought willingly and not feignedly to submit to God; but as the word workis added, I prefer to explain it of constancy. For there are many, as we have said, who shew at first an heroic greatness, and shortly after grow weary and faint. He therefore bids those who would be perfectand entire, to persevere to the end. But what he means by these two words, he afterwards explains of those who fail not, or become not wearied: for they, who being overcome as to patience, be broken down, must, by degrees, be necessarily weakened, and at length wholly fail.
Let patience have her perfect work – That is, Continue faithful, and your patience will be crowned with its full reward; for in this sense is εργον, which we translate work, to be understood. It is any effect produced by a cause, as interest from money, fruit from tillage, gain from labor, a reward for services performed; the perfect work is the full reward. See many examples in Kypke.
That ye may be perfect and entire – Τελειοι, Fully instructed, in every part of the doctrine of God, and in his whole will concerning you. Ὁλοκληροι, having all your parts, members, and portions; that ye may have every grace which constitutes the mind that was in Christ, so that your knowledge and holiness may be complete, and bear a proper proportion to each other. These expressions in their present application are by some thought to be borrowed from the Grecian games: the man was τελειος, perfect, who in any of the athletic exercises had got the victory; he was ολοκληρος, entire, having every thing complete, who had the victory in the pentathlon, in each of the five exercises. Of this use in the last term I do not recollect an example, and therefore think the expressions are borrowed from the sacrifices under the law. A victim was τελειος, perfect, that was perfectly sound, having no disease; it was ολοκληρος, entire, if it had all its members, having nothing redundant, nothing deficient. Be then to the Lord what he required his sacrifices to be; let your whole heart, your body, soul, and spirit, be sanctified to the Lord of hosts, that he may fill you with all his fullness.
But let patience have her perfect work – Let it be fairly developed; let it produce its appropriate effects without being hindered. Let it not be obstructed in its fair influence on the soul by murmurings, complaining, or rebellion. Patience under trials is fitted to produce important effects on the soul, and we are not to hinder them in any manner by a perverse spirit, or by opposition to the will of God. Every one who is afflicted should desire that the fair effects of affliction should be produced on his mind, or that there should be produced in his soul precisely the results which his trials are adapted to accomplish.
That ye may be perfect and entire – The meaning of this is explained in the following phrase – “wanting nothing;” that is, that there may be nothing lacking to complete your character. There may be the elements of a good character; there may be sound principles, but those principles may not be fully carried out so as to show what they are. Afflictions, perhaps more than anything else, will do this, and we should therefore allow them to do all that they are adapted to do in developing what is good in us. The idea here is, that it is desirable not only to have the elements or principles of piety in the soul, but to have them fairly carried out, so as to show what is their real tendency and value. Compare the notes at 1Pe_1:7. On the word “perfect,” as used in the Scriptures, see the notes at Job_1:1. The word rendered “entire” (ολόκληροι holokleroi) means, whole in every part. Compare the notes at 1Th_5:23. The word occurs only in these two places. The corresponding noun (ολοκληρία holokleria) occurs in Act_3:16, rendered “perfect soundness.”
Wanting nothing – “Being left in nothing;” that is, everything being complete, or fully carried out.
Ver. 4. — Patience alone is not sufficient. It must have scope given it for its exercise that it may have its “perfect work.” That ye may be perfect (i[na h=te te>leioi); cf. Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect.” Both teleiov and oJloklhrov were applied to the initiated, the fully instructed, as opposed to novices in the ancient mysteries; and as early as 1 Corinthians 2:6, 7 we find te>leiov used for the Christian who is no longer in need of rudimentary teaching, and possibly this is the thought here. The figure, however, is probably rather that of the full-grown man. Teleioi, equivalent to “grown men” as opposed to children; oJloklhroi, sound in every part and limb (cf. oJloklhrian in Acts 3:16). From this te>leiov assumes a moral-complexion, that which has attained its aim. Compare its use in Genesis 6:9 and Deuteronomy 18:13, where it is equivalent to the Latin integer vitae, and the following passage from Stobaeus, which exactly serves to illustrate St. James’s thought in vers. 4 and 5, Ton ajgaqoleion ei+nai legousin, diatoav ajpoleipesqai ajreth~v The “perfection” which is to be attained in this life may be further illustrated from Hebrews 12:23 — a passage which is often misunderstood, but which undoubtedly means that the men were made perfect (pneu>masi dikai>wn teteleiwme>nwn), and that not in a future state, but here on earth, where alone they can be subject to those trials and conflicts by the patient endurance of which they are perfected for a higher state of being. The whole passage before us (vers. 2-6) affords a most remarkable instance of the figure called by grammarians anadiplosis, the repetition of a marked word at the close of one clause and beginning of another. “The trial of your faith worketh patience; but let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing. But if any man lack wisdom, let him ask of the giving God… and it shall be given him; but let him ask in faith, nothing doubting, for he that doubteth,” etc.
5If any of you lack wisdom.As our reason, and all our feelings are averse to the thought that we can be happy in the midst of evils, he bids us to ask of the Lord to give us wisdom. For wisdomhere, I confine to the subject of the passage, as though he had said, “If this doctrine is higher than what your minds can reach to, ask of the Lord to illuminate you by his Spirit; for as this consolation alone is sufficient to mitigate all the bitterness of evils, that what is grievous to the flesh is salutary to us; so we must necessarily be overcome with impatience, except we be sustained by this kind of comfort.” Since we see that the Lord does not so require from us what is above our strength, but that he is ready to help us, provided we ask, let us, therefore, learn, whenever he commands anything, to ask from him the power to perform it.
Though in this place to be wise is to submit to God in the endurance of evils, under a due conviction that he so orders all things as to promote our salvation; yet the sentence may be generally applied to every branch of right knowledge.
But why does he say If any one,as though all of them did not want wisdom. To this I answer, that all are by nature without it; but that some are gifted with the spirit of wisdom, while others are without it. As, then, all had not made such progress as to rejoice in affliction, but few there were to whom this had been given, James, therefore, referred to such cases; and he reminded those who were not as yet fully convinced that by the cross their salvation was promoted by the Lord, that they were to ask to be endued with wisdom. And yet there is no doubt, but that necessity reminds us all to ask the same thing; for he who has made the greatest progress, is yet far off from the goal. But to ask an increase of wisdom is another thing than to ask for it at first.
When he bids us to ask of the Lord,he intimates, that he alone can heal our diseases and relieve our wants.
That giveth to all men liberally. By all, he means those who ask; for they who seek no remedy for their wants, deserve to pine away in them. However, this universal declaration, by which every one of us is invited to ask, without exception, is very important; hence no man ought to deprive himself of so great a privilege.
To the same purpose is the promise which immediately follows; for as by this command he shews what is the duty of every one, so he affirms that they would not do in vain what he commands; according to what is said by Christ, “Knock, and it shall be opened.”(Mat_7:7; Luk_11:9.)
The word liberally, or freely, denotes promptitude in giving. So Paul, in Rom_12:8, requires simplicity in deacons. And in 2Co_8:0 and 2Co_9:0, when speaking of charity or love, he repeats the same word several times. The meaning, then, is, that God is so inclined and ready to give, that he rejects none, or haughtily puts them off, being not like the niggardly and grasping, who either sparingly, as with a closed hand, give but little, or give only a part of what they were about to give, or long debate with themselves whether to give or not.
And upbraideth not. This is added, lest any one should fear to come too often to God. Those who are the most liberal among men, when any one asks often to be helped, mention their formal acts of kindness, and thus excuse themselves for the future. Hence, a mortal man, however open-handed he may be, we are ashamed to weary by asking too often. But James reminds us, that there is nothing like this in God; for he is ready ever to add new blessings to former ones, without any end or limitation.
If any of you lack wisdom – Wisdom signifies in general knowledge of the best end, and the best means of attaining it; but in Scripture it signifies the same as true religion, the thorough practical knowledge of God, of one’s self, and of a Savior.
Let him ask of God – Because God is the only teacher of this wisdom.
That giveth to all men liberally – Who has all good, and gives all necessary good to every one that asks fervently. He who does not ask thus does not feel his need of Divine teaching. The ancient Greek maxim appears at first view strange, but it is literally true: – Αρχη γνωσεως της αγνοιας ἡ γνωσις. “The knowledge of ignorance is the beginning of knowledge.”
In knowledge we may distinguish these four things: –
1. Intelligence, the object of which is intuitive truths.
2. Wisdom, which is employed in finding out the best end.
3. Prudence, which regulates the whole conduct through life.
4. Art, which provides infallible rules to reason by.
If any of you lack wisdom – Probably this refers particularly to the kind of wisdom which they would need in their trials, to enable them to bear them in a proper manner, for there is nothing in which Christians more feel the need of heavenly wisdom than in regard to the manner in which they should bear trials, and what they should do in the perplexities, and disappointments, and bereavements that come upon them; but the language employed is so general, that what is here said may be applied to the need of wisdom in all respects. The particular kind of wisdom which we need in trials is to enable us to understand their design and tendency; to perform our duty under them, or the new duties which may grow out of them; to learn the lessons which God designs to teach, for he always designs to teach us some valuable lessons by affliction; and to cultivate such views and feelings as are appropriate under the peculiar forms of trial which are brought upon us; to find out the sins for which we have been afflicted, and to learn how we may avoid them in time to come. We are in great danger of going wrong when we are afflicted; of complaining and murmuring; of evincing a spirit of rebellion, and of losing the benefits which we might have obtained if we had submitted to the trial in a proper manner. So in all things we “lack wisdom.” We are short-sighted; we have hearts prone to sin; and there are great and important matters pertaining to duty and salvation on which we cannot but feel that we need heavenly guidance.
Let him ask of God – That is, for the specific wisdom which he needs; the very wisdom which is necessary for him in the particular case. It is proper to bear the very case before God; to make mention of the specific want; to ask of God to guide us in the very matter where we feel so much embarrassment. It is one of the privileges of Christians, that they may not only go to God and ask him for that general wisdom which is needful for them in life, but that whenever a particular emergency arises, a case of perplexity and difficulty in regard to duty, they may bring that particular thing before his throne, with the assurance that he will guide them. Compare Psa_25:9; Isa_37:14; Joe_2:17.
That giveth to all men liberally – The word men here is supplied by the translators, but not improperly, though the promise should be regarded as restricted to those who ask. The object of the writer was to encourage those who felt their need of wisdom, to go and ask it of God; and it would not contribute anything to furnish such a specific encouragement to say of God that he gives to all men liberally whether they ask or not. In the Scriptures, the promise of divine aid is always limited to the desire. No blessing is promised to man that is not sought; no man can feel that he has a right to hope for the favor of God, who does not value it enough to pray for it; no one ought to obtain it, who does not prize it enough to ask for it. Compare Mat_7:7-8. The word rendered “liberally” haploos – means, properly, “simply;” that is, in simplicity, sincerity, reality. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, though the corresponding noun occurs in Rom_12:8; 2Co_1:12; 2Co_11:3, rendered simplicity; in 2Co_8:2; 2Co_9:13, rendered “liberality,” and “liberal;” 2Co_9:11, rendered “bountifulness;” and Eph_6:5; Col_3:22, rendered “singleness,” of the heart. The idea seems to be that of openness, frankness, generosity; the absence of all that is sordid and contracted; where there is the manifestation of generous feeling, and liberal conduct. In a higher sense than in the case of any man, all that is excellent in these things is to be found in God; and we may therefore come to him feeling that in his heart there is more that is noble and generous in bestowing favors than in any other being. There is nothing that is stinted and close; there is no partiality; there is no withholding of his favor because we are poor, and unlettered, and unknown.
And upbraideth not – Does not reproach, rebuke, or treat harshly. He does not coldly repel us, if we come and ask what we need, though we do it often and with importunity. Compare Luk_18:1-7. The proper meaning of the Greek word is to rail at, reproach, revile, chide; and the object here is probably to place the manner in which God bestows his favors in contrast with what sometimes occurs among men. He does not reproach or chide us for our past conduct; for our foolishness; for our importunity in asking. He permits us to come in the most free manner, and meets us with a Spirit of entire kindness, and with promptness in granting our requests. We are not always sure, when we ask a favor of a man, that we shall not encounter something that will be repulsive, or that will mortify us; we are certain, however, when we ask a favor of God, that we shall never be reproached in an unfeeling manner, or meet with a harsh response.
And it shall be given him – Compare Jer_29:12-13; “Then shall ye call upon me, and go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with your whole heart.” See also Mat_7:7-8; Mat_21:22; Mar_11:24; 1Jo_3:22; 1Jo_5:14. This promise in regard to the wisdom that may be necessary for us, is absolute; and we may be sure that if it be asked in a proper manner it will be granted us. There can be no doubt that it is one of the things which God is able to impart; which will be for our own good; and which, therefore, he is ever ready to bestow. About many things there might be doubt whether, if they were granted, they would be for our real welfare, and therefore there may be a doubt whether it would be consistent for God to bestow them; but there can be no such doubt about wisdom. That is always for our good; and we may be sure, therefore, that we shall obtain that, if the request be made with a right spirit. If it be asked in what way we may expect he will bestow it on us, it may be replied:
(1) That it is through his word – by enabling us to see clearly the meaning of the sacred volume, and to understand the directions which he has there given to guide us;
(2) By the secret influences of his Spirit.
(a) Suggesting to us the way in which we should go, and,
(b) Inclining us to do that which is prudent and wise; and,
(3)By the events of His Providence making plain to us the path of duty, and removing the obstructions which may be in our path. It is easy for God to guide his people; and they who “watch daily at the gates, and wait at the posts of the doors” of wisdom Pro_8:34, will not be in danger of going astray. Psa_25:9.
Vers. 5-11. — Digression suggested by the thought of perfection. There can be no true perfection without wisdom, which is the gift of God, and must be sought from him. It is possible that the thought and connection of the passage is due to a reminiscence of Wisd. 9:6, “For though a man be never so perfect (te>leiov) among the children of men, yet if thy wisdom be not with him, he shall be nothing regarded.” But whether this be so or not, the teaching is manifestly founded on our Lord’s words with regard to prayer, Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it shall be given you;” and Mark 11:23, “Have faith in God. Verily I say unto you, Whoever shall say… and shall not doubt (diakriqh~|) in his heart,” etc. Tou~ dido>ntov Qeou~. The order of the words shows that God’s character is that of a Giver: “the giving God.” His “nature and property” is to give as well as to forgive.
Man often spoils his gifts,
(1)by the grudging way in which they are given, and
(2)by the reproaches which accompany them.
God, on the contrary, gives to all
(1) liberally, and
(2) without upbraiding
6But let him ask in faith. He shews here, first the right way of praying; for as we cannot pray without the word, as it were, leading the way, so we must believe before we pray; for we testify by prayer, that we hope to obtain from God the grace which he has promised. Thus every one who has no faith in the promises, prays dissemblingly. Hence, also, we learn what is true faith; for James, after having bidden us to ask in faith, adds this explanation, nothing wavering, or, doubting nothing. Then faith is that which relies on God’s promises, and makes us sure of obtaining what we ask. It hence follows, that it is connected with confidence and certainty as to God’s love towards us. The verb διακρίνεσθαι, which he uses, means properly to inquire into both sides of a question, after the manner of pleaders. He would have us then to be so convinced of what God has once promised, as not to admit a doubt whether he shall be heard or not.
He that wavereth, or doubteth. By this similitude he strikingly expresses how God punishes the unbelief of those who doubt his promises; for, by their own restlessness, they torment themselves inwardly; for there is never any calmness for our souls, except they recumb on the truth of God. He, at length, concludes, that such are unworthy to receive anything from God.
This is a remarkable passage, fitted to disprove that impious dogma which is counted as an oracle under the whole Papacy, that is, that we ought to pray doubtingly, and with uncertainty as to our success. This principle, then, we hold, that our prayers are not heard by the Lord, except when we have a confidence that we shall obtain. It cannot indeed be otherwise, but that through the infirmity of our flesh we must be tossed by various temptations, which are like engines employed to shake our confidence; so that no one is found who does not vacillate and tremble according to the feeling of his flesh; but temptations of this kind are at length to be overcome by faith. The case is the same as with a tree, which has struck firm roots; it shakes, indeed, through the blowing of the wind, but is not rooted up; on the contrary, it remains firm in its own place.
But let him ask in faith – See the passages referred to in Jam_1:5. Compare the Mat_7:7 note, and Heb_11:6 note. We cannot hope to obtain any favor from God if there is not faith; and where, as in regard to the wisdom necessary to guide us, we are sure that it is in accordance with his will to grant it to us, we may come to him with the utmost confidence, the most entire assurance, that it will be granted. In this case, we should come to God without a doubt that, if we ask with a proper spirit, the very thing that we ask will be bestowed on us. We cannot in all other cases be so sure that what we ask will be for our good, or that it will be in accordance with his will to bestow it; and hence, we cannot in such cases come with the same kind of faith. We can then only come with unwavering confidence in God, that he will do what is right and best; and that if he sees that what we ask will be for our good, he will bestow it upon us. Here, however, nothing prevents our coming with the assurance that the very thing which we ask will be conferred on us.
Nothing wavering – (μηδὲν διακρινόμενος meden diakrinomenos.) “Doubting or hesitating as to nothing, or in no respect.” See Act_20:20; Act_11:12. In regard to the matter under consideration, there is to be no hesitancy, no doubting, no vacillation of the mind. We are to come to God with the utmost confidence and assurance.
For he that wavereth, is like a wave of the sea … – The propriety and beauty of this comparison will be seen at once. The wave of the sea has no stability. It is at the mercy of every wind, and seems to be driven and tossed every way. So he that comes to God with unsettled convictions and hopes, is liable to be driven about by every new feeling that may spring up in the mind. At one moment, hope and faith impel him to come to God; then the mind is at once filled with uncertainty and doubt, and the soul is agitated and restless as the ocean. Compare Isa_57:20. Hope on the one hand, and the fear of not obtaining the favor which is desired on the other, keep the mind restless and discomposed.
For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord – Compare Heb_11:6. A man can hope for favor from God only as he puts confidence in him. He sees the heart; and if he sees that there is no belief in his existence, or his perfections – no real trust in him – no reliance on his promises, his wisdom, his grace – it cannot be proper that he should grant an answer to our petitions. That will account sufficiently for the fact that there are so many prayers unanswered; that we so frequently go to the throne of grace, and are sent empty away. A man that goes to God in such a state of mind, should not expect to receive any favor.
8A double-minded man, or, a man of a double mind. This sentence may be read by itself, as he speaks generally of hypocrites. It seems, however, to me to be rather the conclusion of the preceding doctrine; and thus there is an implied contrast between the simplicity or liberality of God, mentioned before, and the double-mindedness of man; for as God gives to us with a stretched out hand, so it behooves us in our turn to open the bosom of our heart. He then says that the unbelieving, who have tortuous recesses, are unstable; because they are never firm or fixed, but at one time they swell with the confidence of the flesh, at another they sink into the depth of despair.
Jas 1:8 A double-minded man – Ανηρ διψυχος· The man of two souls, who has one for earth, and another for heaven; who wishes to secure both worlds; he will not give up earth, and he is loth to let heaven go. This was a usual term among the Jews, to express the man who attempted to worship God, and yet retained the love of the creature. Rabbi Tanchum, fol. 84, on Deu_26:17, said: “Behold, the Scripture exhorts the Israelites, and tells them when they pray, לא יהיה להם שתי לבבות lo yiyeh lahem shetey lebaboth, that they should not have two hearts, one for the holy blessed God, and one for something else.” A man of this character is continually distracted; he will neither let earth nor heaven go, and yet he can have but one. Perhaps St. James refers to those Jews who were endeavoring to incorporate the law with the Gospel, who were divided in their minds and affections, not willing to give up the Levitical rites, and yet unwilling to renounce the Gospel. Such persons could make no progress in Divine things.
A double minded man – The word here used, δίψυχος dipsuchos occurs only here and in Jam_4:8. It means, properly, one who has two souls; then one who is wavering or inconstant. It is applicable to a man who has no settled principles; who is controlled by passion; who is influenced by popular feeling; who is now inclined to one opinion or course of conduct, and now to another.
Is unstable in all his ways – That is, not merely in regard to prayer, the point particularly under discussion, but in respect to everything. From the instability which the wavering must evince in regard to prayer, the apostle takes occasion to make the general remark concerning such a man, that stability and firmness could be expected on no subject. The hesitancy which manifested on that one subject would extend to all; and we might expect to find such a man irresolute and undetermined in all things. This is always true. If we find a man who takes hold of the promises of God with firmness; who feels the deepest assurance when he prays that God will hear prayer; who always goes to him without hesitation in his perplexities and trials, never wavering, we shall find one who is firm in his principles, steady in his integrity, settled in his determinations, and steadfast in his plans of life – a man whose character we shall feel that we understand, and in whom we can confide. Such a man eminently was Luther; and the spirit which is thus evinced by taking firmly hold of the promises of God is the best kind of religion.
Man (aner). Instead of anthropos (general term) in Jam_1:7, perhaps for variety (Ropes), but often in James (Jam_1:12, Jam_1:23; Jam_2:2; Jam_3:2), though in other Epistles usually in distinction from gune (woman).
Double-minded (dipsuchos). First appearance of this compound known and in N.T. only here and Jam_4:8. Apparently coined by James, but copied often in early Christian writings and so an argument for the early date of James’ Epistle (Moulton and Milligan’s Vocabulary). From dis twice and psuche soul, double-souled, double-minded, Bunyan’s “Mr. Facing-both-ways.” Cf. the rebuke to Peter (edistasas) in Mat_14:31.
Unstable (akatastatos). Late double compound (alpha privative and katastatos verbal from kathistēmi), in lxx once (Isa 54:11) and in Polybius, in N.T. only here and Jam_3:8. It means unsteady, fickle, staggering, reeling like a drunken man. Surely to James such “doubt” is no mark of intellectuality.
9Let the brother of low degree. As Paul, exhorting servants submissively to bear their lot, sets before them this consolation, that they were the free-men of God, having been set free by his grace from the most miserable bondage of Satan, and reminds them, though free, yet to remember that they were the servants of God; so here James in the same manner bids the lowly to glory in this, that they had been adopted by the Lord as his children; and the rich, because they had been brought down into the same condition, the world’s vanity having been made evident to them. Thus the first thing he would have to do is to be content with their humble and low state; and he forbids the rich to be proud. Since it is incomparably the greatest dignity to be introduced into the company of angels, nay, to be made the associates of Christ, he who estimates this favor of God aright, will regard all other things as worthless. Then neither poverty, nor contempt, nor nakedness, nor famine nor thirst, will make his mind so anxious, but that he will sustain himself with this consolation. “Since the Lord has conferred on me the principal thing, it behooves me patiently to bear the loss of other things, which are inferior.”
Behold, how a lowly brother ought to glory in his elevation or exaltation; for if he be accepted of God, he has sufficient consolation in his adoption alone, so as not to grieve unduly for a less prosperous state of life.
Let the brother of low degree – This verse seems to introduce a new topic, which has no other connection with what precedes than that the apostle is discussing the general subject of trials. Compare Jam_1:2. Turning from the consideration of trials in general, he passes to the consideration of a particular kind of trials, that which results from a change of circumstances in life, from poverty to affluence, and from affluence to poverty. The idea which seems to have been in the mind of the apostle is, that there is a great and important trial of faith in any reverse of circumstances; a trial in being elevated from poverty to riches, or in being depressed from a state of affluence to want. Wherever change occurs in the external circumstances of life, there a man’s religion is put to the test, and there he should feel that God is trying the reality of his faith. The phrase “of low degree” (ταπεινὸς tapeinos) means one in humble circumstances; one of lowly rank or employment; one in a condition of dependence or poverty. It stands here particularly opposed to one who is rich; and the apostle doubtless had his eye, in the use of this word, on those who had been poor.
Rejoice – Margin, “glory.” Not because, being made rich, he has the means of sensual gratification and indulgence; not because he will now be regarded as a rich man, and will feel that he is above want; not even because he will have the means of doing good to others. Neither of these was the idea in the mind of the apostle; but it was, that the poor man that is made rich should rejoice because his faith and the reality of his religion are now tried; because a test is furnished which will show, in the new circumstances in which he is placed, whether his piety is genuine. In fact, there is almost no trial of religion which is more certain and decisive than that furnished by a sudden transition from poverty to affluence from adversity to prosperity, from sickness to health. There is much religion in the world that will bear the ills of poverty, sickness, and persecution, or that will bear the temptations arising from prosperity, and even affluence, which will not bear the transition from one to the other; as there is many a human frame that could become accustomed to bear either the steady heat of the equator, or the intense cold of the north, that could not bear a rapid transition from the one to the other. See this thought illustrated in the notes at Phi_4:12.
In that he is exalted – A good man might rejoice in such a transition, because it would furnish him the means of being more extensively useful; most persons would rejoice because such a condition is that for which men commonly aim, and because it would furnish them the means of display, of sensual gratification, or of ease; but neither of these is the idea of the apostle. The thing in which we are to rejoice in the transitions of life is, that a test is furnished of our piety; that a trial is applied to it which enables us to determine whether it is genuine. The most important thing conceivable for us is to know whether we are true Christians, and we should rejoice in everything that will enable us to settle this point.
(Yet it seems not at all likely that an Apostle would exhort a poor man to rejoice in his exaltation to wealth. An exhortation to fear and trembling appears more suitable. Wealth brings along with it so many dangerous temptations, that a man must have greater confidence in his faith and stability than he ought to have, who can rejoice in its acquisition, simply as furnishing occasion to try him: the same may be said of poverty, or of the transition front riches to poverty. The spirit of Agar is more suitable to the humility of piety, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me, lest I be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain, “Pro_30:8-9. Besides, there is no necessity for resorting to this interpretation. The words will, without any straining, bear another sense, which is both excellent in itself, and suitable in its connection. The poor man, or man in humble life, may well rejoice “in that he is exalted” to the dignity of a child of God, and heir of glory.
If he be depressed with his humble rank in this life, let him but think of his spiritual elevation, of his relation to God and Christ, and he shall have an antidote for his dejection. What is the world’s dignity in comparison of his! The rich man, or the man of rank, on the other hand, has reason to rejoice “in that he is made low” through the possession of a meek and humble spirit which his affluence illustrates, but neither destroys nor impairs. It would be matter of grief were he otherwise minded; since all his adventitious splendor is as evanescent as the flower which, forming for a time the crown of the green stalk on which it hangs, perishes before it. This falls admirably in with the design of the Apostle, which was to fortify Christians against trial. Every condition in life had its own trials. The two great conditions of poverty and wealth had theirs; but Christianity guards against the danger, both of the one state and of the other. It elevates the poor under his depression, and humbles the rich in his elevation, and bids both rejoice in its power to shield and bless them. The passage in this view is conceived in the same spirit with one of Paul, in which he beautifully balances the respective conditions of slaves and freemen, by honoring the former with the appellation of the Lord’s freemen, and imposing on the latter that of Christ’s servants, 1Co_7:22.)
Vers. 9-11. — A very difficult passage, three interpretations of which are given, none of them entirely satisfactory or free from difficulties.
(1)“But let the brother of low degree glory in his high estate [i.e. his Christian dignity]; but let the rich [brother glory] in his humiliation” (i.e. in being poor of spirit, Matthew 5:3).
(2)“But let the brother,” etc. (as before); “but the rich man [rejoices] in his humiliation” (i.e. in what is really his degradation; cf. “whose glory is in their shame,” Philippians 3:19).
(3)“But let the brother,… but let the rich [grieve] in his humiliation.” The ellipse of tapeinousqw in this last is very harsh and unexampled, so that the choice really lies between (1) and (2). And against (1) it may be urged
(a) that the “rich” are never elsewhere spoken of as “brothers” in this Epistle. See James 2:6; 5:1, and cf. the way in which they are spoken of in other parts of the New Testament (e.g. Luke 6:24; Matthew 19:23; Revelation 6:15); and in Ecclus. 13:3;
(b) that in ver. 11 the thought is, not of riches which make to themselves wings and fly away, but of the rich man himself, who fades away;
(c) that tapeinwsiv is elsewhere always used for external lowness of condition, not for the Christian virtue of humility (see >Luke 1:48; Acts 8:33; Philippians 3:21). On the whole, therefore, it is best to adopt (2) and to supply the indicative: “but the rich man [not ‘ brother’]
10But the rich, in that he is made low, or, in his lowness. He has mentioned the particular for the general; for this admonition pertains to all those who excel in honor; or in dignity, or in any other external thing. He bids them to glory in their lowness or littleness, in order to repress the haughtiness of those who are usually inflated with prosperity. But he calls it lowness, because the manifested kingdom of God ought to lead us to despise the world, as we know that all the things we previously greatly admired, are either nothing or very little things. For Christ, who is not a teacher except of babes, checks by his doctrine all the haughtiness of the flesh. Lest, then, the vain joy of the world should captivate the rich, they ought to habituate themselves to glory in the casting down of their carnal excellency. (103)
As the flower of the grass. Were any one to say that James alludes to the words of Isaiah, I would not much object; but I cannot allow that he quotes the testimony of the Prophet, who speaks not only of the things of this life and the fading character of the world, but of the whole man, both body and soul; [Isa_40:6;] but here what is spoken of is the pomp of wealth or of riches. And the meaning is, that glorying in riches is foolish and preposterous, because they pass away in a moment. The philosophers teach the same thing; but the song is sung to the deaf, until the ears are opened by the Lord to hear the truth concerning the eternity of the celestial kingdom. Hence he mentions brother; intimating that there is no place for this truth, until we are admitted into the order of God’s children.
But the rich, in that he is made low – Εν τη ταπεινωσει· In his humiliation – in his being brought to the foot of the cross to receive, as a poor and miserable sinner, redemption through the blood of the cross: and especially let him rejoice in this, because all outward glory is only as the flower of the field, and, like that, will wither and perish.
But the rich, in that he is made low – That is, because his property is taken away, and he is made poor. Such a transition is often the source of the deepest sorrow; but the apostle says that even in that a Christian may find occasion for thanksgiving. The reasons for rejoicing in this manner, which the apostle seems to have had in view, were these:
(1) because it furnished a test of the reality of religion, by showing that it is adapted to sustain the soul in this great trial; that it can not only bear prosperity, but that it can bear the rapid transition from that state to one of poverty; and,
(2) because it would furnish to the mind an impressive and salutary illustration of the fact that all earthly glory is soon to fade away.
I may remark here, that the transition from affluence to poverty is often borne by Christians with the manifestation of a most lovely spirit, and with an entire freedom from murmuring and complaining. Indeed, there are more Christians who could safely bear a transition from affluence to poverty, from prosperity to adversity, than there are who could bear a sudden transition from poverty to affluence. Some of the loveliest exhibitions of piety which I have ever witnessed have been in such transitions; nor have I seen occasion anywhere to love religion more than in the ease, and grace, and cheerfulness, with which it has enabled those accustomed long to more elevated walks, to descend to the comparatively humble lot where God places them. New grace is imparted for this new form of trial, and new traits of Christian character are developed in these rapid transitions, as some of the most beautiful exhibitions of the laws of matter are brought out in the rapid transitions in the laboratory of the chemist.
Because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away – That is, since it is a fact that he will thus pass away, he should rejoice that he is reminded of it. He should, therefore, esteem it a favor that this lesson is brought impressively before his mind. To learn this effectually, though by the loss of property, is of more value to him than all his wealth would be if he were forgetful of it. The comparison of worldly splendor with the fading flower of the field, is one that is common in Scripture. It is probable that James had his eye on the passage in Isa_40:6-8. See the notes at that passage. Compare the notes at 1Pe_1:24-25. See also Psa_103:15; Mat_6:28-30.
For the sun is no sooner risen – We need not pursue this metaphor, as St. James’ meaning is sufficiently clear: All human things are transitory; rise and fall, or increase and decay, belong to all the productions of the earth, and to all its inhabitants. This is unavoidable, for in many cases the very cause of their growth becomes the cause of their decay and destruction. The sun by its genial heat nourishes and supports all plants and animals; but when it arises with a burning heat, the atmosphere not being tempered with a sufficiency of moist vapours, the juices are exhaled from the plants; the earth, for lack of moisture, cannot afford a sufficient supply; vegetation becomes checked; and the plants soon wither and die. Earthly possessions are subject to similar mutations. God gives and resumes them at his pleasure, and for reasons which he seldom explains to man. He shows them to be uncertain, that they may never become an object of confidence to his followers, and that they may put their whole trust in God. If for righteousness’ sake any of those who were in affluence suffer loss, or spoiling of their goods, they should consider that, while they have gained that of infinite worth, they have lost what is but of little value, and which in the nature of things they must soon part with, though they should suffer nothing on account of religion.
For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat – Isaiah Isa_40:7 employs the word “wind,” referring to a burning wind that dries up the flowers. It is probable that the apostle also refers not so much to the sun itself, as to the hot and fiery wind called the simoom, which often rises with the sun, and which consumes the green herbage of the fields. So Rosenmuller and Bloomfield interpret it.
It withereth the grass – Isa_40:7. It withereth the stalk, or that which, when dried, produces hay or fodder – the word here used being commonly employed in the latter sense. The meaning is, that the effect of the hot wind is to wither the stalk or spire which supports the flower, and when that is dried up, the flower itself falls. This idea will give increased beauty and appropriateness to the figure – that man himself is blasted and withered, and then that all the external splendor which encircled him falls to the ground, like a flower whose support is gone.
And the grace of the fashion of it perisheth – Its beauty disappears.
So shall the rich man fade away in his ways – That is, his splendor, and all on which he prideth himself, shall vanish. The phrase “in his ways,” according to Rosenmuller, refers to his counsels, his plans, his purposes; and the meaning is, that the rich man, with all by which he is known, shall vanish. A man’s “ways,” that is, his mode of life, or those things by which he appears before the world, may have somewhat the same relation to him which the flower has to the stalk on which it grows, and by which it is sustained. The idea of James seems to be, that as it was indisputable that the rich man must soon disappear, with all that he had of pomp and splendor in the view of the world, it was well for him to be reminded of it by every change of condition; and that he should therefore rejoice in the providential dispensation by which his property would be taken away, and by which the reality of his religion would be tested. We should rejoice in anything by which it can be shown whether we are prepared for heaven or not.
12Blessed is the man. After having applied consolation, he moderated the sorrow of those who were severely handled in this world, and again humbled the arrogance of the great. He now draws this conclusion, that they are happy who magnanimously endure troubles and other trials, so as to rise above them. The word temptation may indeed be otherwise understood, even for the stings of lusts which annoy the soul within; but which is here commended, as I think, is fortitude of mind in enduring adversities. It is, however, a paradox, that they are not happy to whom all things come according to their wishes, but such as are not overcome with evils.
For when he is tried. He gives a reason for the preceding sentence; for the crown follows the contest. If, then, it be our chief happiness to be crowned in the kingdom of God, it follows, that the contests with which the Lord tries us, are aids and helps to our happiness. Thus the argument is from the end or the effect: hence we conclude, that the faithful are harassed by so many evils for this purpose, that their piety and obedience may be made manifest, and that they may be thus at length prepared to receive the crown of life.
But they reason absurdly who hence infer that we by fighting merit the crown; for since God has gratuitously appointed it for us, our fighting only renders us fit to receive it.
He adds, that it is promised to those who love God. By speaking thus, he means not that the love of man is the cause of obtaining the crown, (for God anticipates us by his gratuitous love;) but he only intimates that the elect who love him are alone approved by God. He then reminds us that the conquerors of all temptations are those who love God, and that we fail not in courage when we are tried, for no other cause than because the love of the world prevails in us.
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation – This is a mere Jewish sentiment, and on it the Jews speak some excellent things. In Shemoth Rabba, sec. 31, fol. 129, and in Rab. Tanchum, fol. 29, 4, we have these words: “Blessed is the man שהיה עומד בנסיונו shehayah omed benisyono who stands in his temptation; for there is no man whom God does not try. He tries the rich, to see if they will open their hands to the poor. He tries the poor, to see if they will receive affliction and not murmur. If, therefore, the rich stand in his temptation, and give alms to the poor, he shall enjoy his riches in this world, and his horn shall be exalted in the world to come, and the holy blessed God shall deliver him from the punishment of hell. If the poor stand in his temptation, and do not repine, (kick back), he shall have double in the world to come.”
This is exactly the sentiment of James. Every man is in this life in a state of temptation or trial, and in this state he is a candidate for another and a better world; he that stands in his trial shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. It is only love to God that can enable a man to endure the trials of life. Love feels no loads; all practicable things are possible to him who loveth.
There may be an allusion here to the contests in the Grecian games. He is crowned who conquers; and none else.
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation – The apostle seems here to use the word “temptation” in the most general sense, as denoting anything that will try the reality of religion, whether affliction, or persecution, or a direct inducement to sin placed before the mind. The word temptation appears in this chapter to be used in two senses; and the question may arise, why the apostle so employs it. Compare Jam_1:2, Jam_1:13. But, in fact, the word “temptation” is in itself of so general a character as to cover the whole usage, and to justify the manner in which it is employed. It denotes anything that will try or test the reality of our religion; and it may be applied, therefore, either to afflictions or to direct solicitations to sin – the latter being the sense in which it is now commonly employed. In another respect, also, essentially the same idea enters into both the ways in which the word is employed.
Affliction, persecution, sickness, etc., may be regarded as, in a certain sense, temptations to sin; that is, the question comes before us whether we will adhere to the religion on account of which we are persecuted, or apostatize from it, and escape these sufferings; whether in sickness and losses we will be patient and submissive to that God who lays his hand upon us, or revolt and murmur. In each and every case, whether by affliction, or by direct allurements to do wrong, the question comes before the mind whether we have religion enough to keep us, or whether we will yield to murmuring, to rebellion, and to sin. In these respects, in a general sense, all forms of trial may be regarded as temptation. Yet in the following verse Jam_1:13 the apostle would guard this from abuse. So far as the form of trial involved an allurement or inducement to sin, he says that no man should regard it as from God. That cannot be his design. The trial is what he aims at, not the sin. In the verse before us he says, that whatever may be the form of the trial, a Christian should rejoice in it, for it will furnish an evidence that he is a child of God.
For when he is tried – In any way – if he bears the trial.
He shall receive the crown of life – See the notes at 2Ti_4:8. It is possible that James had that passage in his eye Compare the Introduction, 5.
Which the Lord hath promised – The sacred writers often speak of such a crown as promised, or as in reserve for the children of God. 2Ti_4:8; 1Pe_5:4; Rev_2:10; Rev_3:11; Rev_4:4.
Them that love him – A common expression to denote those who are truly pious, or who are his friends. It is sufficiently distinctive to characterize them, for the great mass of men do not love God. Compare Rom_1:30.
13 Let no man, when he is tempted. Here, no doubt, he speaks of another kind of temptation. It is abundantly evident that the external temptations, hitherto mentioned, are sent to us by God. In this way God tempted Abraham, (Gen_22:1,) and daily tempts us, that is, he tries us as to what are we by laying before us an occasion by which our hearts are made known. But to draw out what is hid in our hearts is a far different thing from inwardly alluring our hearts by wicked lusts.
He then treats here of inward temptations which are nothing else than the inordinate desires which entice to sin. He justly denies that God is the author of these, because they flow from the corruption of our nature.
This warning is very necessary, for nothing is more common among men than to transfer to another the blame of the evils they commit; and they then especially seem to free themselves, when they ascribe it to God himself. This kind of evasion we constantly imitate, delivered down to us as it is from the first man. For this reason James calls us to confess our own guilt, and not to implicate God, as though he compelled us to sin.
But the whole doctrine of scripture seems to be inconsistent with this passage; for it teaches us that men are blinded by God, are given up to a reprobate mind, and delivered over to filthy and shameful lusts. To this I answer, that probably James was induced to deny that we are tempted by God by this reason, because the ungodly, in order to form an excuse, armed themselves with testimonies of Scripture. But there are two things to be noticed here: when Scripture ascribes blindness or hardness of heart to God, it does not assign to him the beginning of this blindness, nor does it make him the author of sin, so as to ascribe to him the blame: and on these two things only does James dwell.
Scripture asserts that the reprobate are delivered up to depraved lusts; but is it because the Lord depraves or corrupts their hearts? By no means; for their hearts are subjected to depraved lusts, because they are already corrupt and vicious. But since God blinds or hardens, is he not the author or minister of evil? Nay, but in this manner he punishes sins, and renders a just reward to the ungodly, who have refused to be ruled by his Spirit. (Rom_1:26.) It hence follows that the origin of sin is not in God, and no blame can be imputed to him as though he took pleasure in evils. (Gen_6:6.)
The meaning is, that man in vain evades, who attempts to cast the blame of his vices on God, because every evil proceeds from no other fountain than from the wicked lust of man. And the fact really is, that we are not otherwise led astray, except that every one has his own inclination as his leader and impeller. But that God tempts no one, he proves by this, because he is not tempted with evils. For it is the devil who allures us to sin, and for this reason, because he wholly burns with the mad lust of sinning. But God does not desire what is evil: he is not, therefore, the author of doing evil in us.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God – See the remarks on the previous verse. The apostle here seems to have had his eye on whatever there was in trial of any kind to induce us to commit sin – whether by complaining, by murmuring, by apostacy, or by yielding to sin. So far as that was concerned, he said that no one should charge it on God. He did nothing in any way with a view to induce men to do evil. That was only an incidental thing in the trial, and was no part of the divine purpose or design. The apostle felt evidently that there was great danger, from the general manner in which the word “temptation” was used, and from the perverse tendency of the heart, that it would be charged on God that he so arranged these trials, and so influenced the mind, as to present inducements to sin. Against this, it was proper that an inspired apostle should bear his solemn testimony; so to guard the whole subject as to show that whatever there was in any form of trial that could be regarded as an inducement or allurement to sin, is not the thing which he contemplated in the arrangement, and does not proceed from him. It has its origin in other causes; and if there was nothing in the corrupt human mind itself leading to sin, there would be nothing in the divine arrangement that would produce it.
For God cannot be tempted with evil – Margin, “evils.” The sense is the same. The object seems to be to show that, in regard to the whole matter of temptation, it does not pertain to God. Nothing can be presented to his mind as an inducement to do wrong, and as little can he present anything to the mind of man to induce him to sin. Temptation is a subject which does not pertain to him. He stands aloof from it altogether. In regard to the particular statement here, that “God cannot be tempted with evil,” or to do evil, there can be no doubt of its truth, and it furnishes the highest security for the welfare of the universe. There is nothing in him that has a tendency to wrong; there can be nothing presented from without to induce him to do wrong:
(1) There is no evil passion to be gratified, as there is in men;
(2) There is no want of power, so that an allurement could be presented to seek what he has not;
(3) There is no want of wealth, for he has infinite resources, and all that there is or can be is his Psa_50:10-11;
(4) There is no want of happiness, that he should seek happiness in sources which are not now in his possession. Nothing, therefore, could be presented to the divine mind as an inducement to do evil.
Neither tempteth he any man – That is, he places nothing before any human being with a view to induce him to do wrong. This is one of the most positive and unambiguous of all the declarations in the Bible, and one of the most important. It may be added, that it is one which stands in opposition to as many feelings of the human heart as perhaps any other one. We are perpetually thinking – the heart suggests it constantly – that God does place before us inducements to evil, with a view to lead us to sin. This is done in many ways:
(a) People take such views of his decrees as if the doctrine implied that he meant that we should sin, and that it could not be otherwise than that we should sin.
(b) It is felt that all things are under his control, and that he has made his arrangements with a design that men should do as they actually do.
(c) It is said that he has created us with just such dispositions as we actually have, and knowing that we would sin.
(d) It is said that, by the arrangements of his Providence, he actually places inducements before us to sin, knowing that the effect will be that we will fall into sin, when we might easily have prevented it.
(e) It is said that he suffers some to tempt others, when he might easily prevent it if he chose, and that this is the same as tempting them himself.
Now, in regard to these things, there may be much which we cannot explain, and much which often troubles the heart even of the good; yet the passage before us is explicit on one point, and all these things must be held in consistency with that – that God does not place inducements before us with a view that we should sin, or in order to lead us into sin. None of his decrees, or his arrangements, or his desires, are based on that, but all have some other purpose and end. The real force of temptation is to be traced to some other source – to ourselves, and not to God. See the next verse.
But every man is tempted – Successfully solicited to sin, when he is drawn away of his own lust – when, giving way to the evil propensity of his own heart, he does that to which he is solicited by the enemy of his soul.
Among the rabbins we find some fine sayings on this subject. In Midrash hanaalam, fol. 20, and Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 17, it is said: “This is the custom of evil concupiscence, יצר הרע yetser hara: To-day it saith, Do this; to-morrow, Worship an idol. The man goes and worships. Again it saith, Be angry.”
“Evil concupiscence is, at the beginning, like the thread of a spider’s web; afterwards it is like a cart rope.” Sanhedrim, fol. 99.
In the words, drawn away by his own lust and enticed, ὑπο της ιδιας επιθυμιας εξελκομενος και δελεαζομενος, there is a double metaphor; the first referring to the dragging a fish out of the water by a hook which it had swallowed, because concealed by a bait; the second, to the enticements of impure women, who draw away the unwary into their snares, and involve them in their ruin. Illicit connections of this kind the writer has clearly in view; and every word that he uses refers to something of this nature, as the following verse shows.
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust – That is, the fountain or source of all temptation is in man himself. It is true that external inducements to sin may be placed before him, but they would have no force if there was not something in himself to which they corresponded, and over which they might have power. There must be some “lust;” some desire; some inclination; something which is unsatisfied now, which is made the foundation of the temptation, and which gives it all its power. If there were no capacity for receiving food, or desire for it, objects placed before us appealing to the appetite could never be made a source of temptation; if there were nothing in the soul which could be regarded as the love of acquisition or possession, gold would furnish no temptation; if there were no sensual propensities, we should be in that quarter above the power of temptation.
In each case, and in every form, the power of the temptation is laid in some propensity of our nature, some desire of that which we do not now possess. The word rendered “lust” in this place (επιθυμίας epithumias), is not employed here in the narrow sense in which it is now commonly used, as denoting libidinousness. It means desire in general; an earnest wish for anything. Notes, Eph_4:22. It seems here to be used with reference to the original propensities of our nature – the desires implanted in us, which are a stimulus to employment – as the desire of knowledge, of food, of power, of sensual gratifications; and the idea is, that a man may be drawn along by these beyond the prescribed limits of indulgence, and in the pursuit of objects that are forbidden. He does not stop at the point at which the law requires him to stop, and is therefore guilty of transgression. This is the source of all sin. The original propensity may not be wrong, but may be perfectly harmless – as in the case of the desire of food, etc. Nay, it may furnish a most desirable stimulus to action; for how could the human powers be called forth, if it were not for this? The error, the fault, the sin, is, not restraining the indulgence where we are commanded to do it, either in regard to the objects sought, or in regard to the degree of indulgence.
And enticed – Entrapped, caught; that is, he is seized by this power, and held fast; or he is led along and beguiled, until he falls into sin, as in a snare that springs suddenly upon him.
Επιθυμια Epithumia in the New Testament, is sometimes employed in a good sense, Luk_22:15; Phi_1:23; 1Th_2:17; often in a bad sense, as in Mar_4:19; Joh_8:44; Rom_1:24; Rom_6:12; Rom_7:7; 1Jo_2:16; but there is no difficulty in making the distinction; the context easily determining the matter. And this passage in James seems at once to fix down on επιθυμιας epithumias the sense of evil or corrupt desire. That it can mean a “harmless propensity;” or that it is a propensity on whose character the apostle does not at all pronounce, is incredible. It is said to “draw away a man and entice him;” to “conceive and bring forth sin:” and a principle from which such fruit springs cannot be very harmless. Without doubt, the apostle traces the whole evil of temptation, which some falsely ascribed to God, to the sinful desires of the human heart; and, as our author remarks, he seems to take the common sense view without entertaining any thought of nice philosophical distinction. We cannot for a moment suppose the apostle to say – “the evil is not to be traced to God, but to a harmless propensity.”
The whole passage, with the words and figures which are used, show that the idea in the apostle’s mind was that of an enticing harlot. The επιθυμια epithumia is personified. She persuades the understanding and will into her impure embrace. The result of this fatal union is the “conception” and ultimate “bringing forth” of actual sin, which again brings forth death. This is the true genealogy of sin (McKnight); and to say that the επιθυμια epithumia, or evil desire, of which the apostle says that it is the “origo mali,” is harmless, – is to contradict him, and Paul also, who in a parallel passage says that he had not known the επιθυμια epithumia, or inward desire after forbidden objects, to be sinful, unless the law had enlightened him and said “thou shalt not covet.” Mr. Scott has spoken in strong terms of the folly of some parties who understand επιθυμια epithumia. Here only of the desire of sensual gross indulgence, to the exclusion of other sinful desires; but the extreme of interpreting it as meaning nothing sinful at all, deserves equal reprehension. The reader, however, will notice that the author does not venture on this assertion. He says “it may be so,” and otherwise modifies his view.)
Ver. 14 states the true origin of temptation. While the occasion might be of God “in the order of his providence and of our spiritual training,” the inclination is not of him. Compare with this verse the description of the harlot in Proverbs 7:6-27. Here lust is personified, and represented as a seducing harlot, to whose embraces man yields, and the result is the birth of sin, which in its turn gives birth to death.
Jas 1:15 When concupiscence hath conceived, (man’s free will yielding to it) it bringeth forth sin, our perverse inclinations become sinful, and when any grievous sin is completed, or even consented to, it begetteth death, it maketh the soul guilty of eternal death. It may not be amiss here to observe with St. Gregory, &c. that there are three degrees of temptations: the first, by suggestion only; the second, by delectation; the third, by consent. The first, the devil, or our own frail nature, tempts us by a suggestion of evil thoughts in our imagination: to have such thoughts and imaginations may be no sin at all, though the things and objects represented be never so foul and hideous, though they may continue never so long, and return never so often. The reason is, because we cannot hinder them. On the contrary, if our will remains displeased with them, and resist them, such a resistance is meritorious, and by the mercies of God will purchase us a reward. Second, these representations may be followed with a delight or delectation in the senses, or in the body only; and if by an impression made against the will, which we no ways consent to, there is again no sin. There may be also some neglect in the person tempted, by not using sufficient endeavours to resist and repel those thoughts, which if it be only some small neglect, the sin is not great: but if the person tempted hath wilfully, and with full deliberation, taken delight in evil thoughts, either of revenge, or of fornication, or adultery, or about any thing very sinful, such a wilful delight is a grievous and deadly sin, though he hath not had a will or design to perform the action itself. The reason is, because he then wilfully consents in mind and heart to a sinful delight, though not to the execution or action. And the sin may be great, and mortal, though it be but for a short time: for a temptation may continue for a long time and be no sin; and there may be a great sin in a short time. The reason again is, because we are to judge of sin by the dispositions and consent of the will, not by the length of time. Third, when the sinner yields to evil suggestions and temptations, so that his will fully consents to what is proposed, and nothing can be said to be wanting but an opportunity of putting his sinful desires in execution, he has already committed the sin; for example, of murder, of fornication, &c. in his heart, as our blessed Saviour taught us. (Matthew v. 28.) (Witham)
15Then when lust hath conceived. He first calls that lust which is not any kind of evil affection or desire, but that which is the fountain of all evil affections; by which, as he shews, are conceived vicious broods, which at length break forth into sins. It seems, however, improper, and not according to the usage of Scripture, to restrict the word sinto outward works, as though indeed lust itself were not a sin, and as though corrupt desires, remaining closed up within and suppressed, were not so many sins. But as the use of a word is various, there is nothing unreasonable if it be taken here, as in many other places, for actual sin.
And the Papists ignorantly lay hold on this passage, and seek to prove from it that vicious, yea, filthy, wicked, and the most abominable lusts are not sins, provided there is no assent; for James does not shew when sin begins to be born, so as to be sin, and so accounted by God, but when it breaks forth. For he proceeds gradually and shews that the consummation of sin is eternal death, and that sin arises from depraved desires, and that these depraved desires or affections have their root in lust. It hence follows that men gather fruit in eternal perdition, and fruit which they have procured for themselves.
By perfected sin, therefore, I understand, not any one act of sin perpetrated, but the completed course of sinning. For though death is merited by every sin whatever, yet it is said to be the reward of an ungodly and wicked life. Hence is the dotage of those confuted who conclude from these words, that sin is not mortal until it breaks forth, as they say, into an external act. Nor is this what James treats of; but his object was only this, to teach that there is in us the root of our own destruction.
When lust hath conceived – When the evil propensity works unchecked, it bringeth forth sin – the evil act between the parties is perpetrated.
And sin, when it is finished – When this breach of the law of God and of innocence has been a sufficient time completed, it bringeth forth death – the spurious offspring is the fruit of the criminal connection, and the evidence of that death or punishment due to the transgressors.
Sin is a small matter in its commencement; but by indulgence it grows great, and multiplies itself beyond all calculation. To use the rabbinical metaphor lately adduced, it is, in the commencement, like the thread of a spider’s web – almost imperceptible through its extreme tenuity or fineness, and as easily broken, for it is as yet but a simple irregular imagination; afterwards it becomes like a cart rope – it has, by being indulged produced strong desire and delight; next consent; then, time, place, and opportunity serving, that which was conceived in the mind, and finished in that purpose, is consummated by act.
“The soul, which the Greek philosophers considered as the seat of the appetites and passions, is called by Philo το θηλυ, the female part of our nature; and the spirit το αρῥεν, the male part. In allusion to this notion, James represents men’s lust as a harlot; which entices their understanding and will into its impure embraces, and from that conjunction conceives sin. Sin, being brought forth, immediately acts, and is nourished by frequent repetition, till at length it gains such strength that in its turn it begets death. This is the true genealogy of sin and death. Lust is the mother of sin, and sin the mother of death, and the sinner the parent of both.” See Macknight.
Then when lust hath conceived – Compare Job_15:35. The allusion here is obvious. The meaning is, when the desire which we have naturally is quickened, or made to act, the result is that sin is produced. As our desires of good lie in the mind by nature, as our propensities exist as they were created, they cannot be regarded as sin, or treated as such; but when they are indulged, when plans of gratification are formed, when they are developed in actual life, the effect is sin. In the mere desire of good, of happiness, of food, of raiment, there is no sin; it becomes sin when indulged in an improper manner, and when it leads us to seek that which is forbidden – to invade the rights of others, or in any way to violate the laws of God. The Rabbis have a metaphor which strongly expresses the general sense of this passage” – “Evil concupiscence is at the beginning like the thread of a spider’s web; afterwards it is like a cart rope.” Sanhedrin, fol. 99.
It bringeth forth sin – The result is sin – open, actual sin. When that which is conceived in the heart is matured, it is seen to be sin. The design of all this is to show that sin is not to be traced to God, but to man himself; and in order to this, the apostle says that there is enough in the heart of man to account for all actual sin, without supposing that it is caused by God. The solution which he gives is, that there are certain propensities in man which, when they are suffered to act themselves out, will account for all the sin in the world. In regard to those native propensities themselves, he does not say whether he regards them as sinful and blameworthy or not; and the probability is, that he did not design to enter into a formal examination, or to make a formal statement, of the nature of these propensities themselves. He looked at man as he is as a creature of God – as endowed with certain animal propensities – as seen, in fact, to have strong passions by nature; and he showed that there was enough in him to account for the existence of sin, without bringing in the agency of God, or charging it on him.
In reference to those propensities, it may be observed that there are two kinds, either of which may account for the existence of sin, but which are frequently both combined. There are, first, our natural propensities; those which we have as men, as endowed with an animal nature, as having constitutional desires to be gratified, and wants to be supplied. Such Adam had in innocence; such the Saviour had; and such are to be regarded as in no respect in themselves sinful and wrong. Yet they may, in our case, as they did in Adam, lead us to sin, because, under their strong influence, we may be led to desire that which is forbidden, or which belongs to another. But there are, secondly, the propensities and inclinations which we have as the result of the fall, and which are evil in their nature and tendency; which as a matter of course, and especially when combined with the former, lead to open transgression. It is not always easy to separate these, and in fact they are often combined in producing the actual guilt of the world. It often requires a close analysis of a man’s own mind to detect these different ingredients in his conduct, and the one often gets the credit of the other. The apostle James seems to have looked at it as a simple matter of fact, with a common sense view, by saying that there were “desires” (επιθυμίας epithumias) in a man’s own mind which would account for all the actual sin in the world, without charging it on God. Of the truth of this, no one can entertain a doubt. – (See the supplementary note above at Jam_1:14.)
And sin, when it is finished bringeth forth death – The result of sin when it is fully carried out, is death – death in all forms. The idea is, that death, in whatever form it exists, is to be traced to sin, and that sin will naturally and regularly produce it. There is a strong similarity between this declaration and that of the apostle Paul Rom_6:21-23; and it is probable that James had that passage in his mind. See the sentiment illustrated in the notes at that passage, and Rom_5:12 note. Any one who indulges in a sinful thought or corrupt desire, should reflect that it may end in death – death temporal and eternal. Its natural tendency will be to produce such a death. This reflection should induce us to check an evil thought or desire at the beginning. Not for one moment should we indulge in it, for soon it may secure the mastery and be beyond our control; and the end may be seen in the grave, and the awful world of woe.
16Do not err. This is an argument from what is opposite; for as God is the author of all good, it is absurd to suppose him to be the author of evil. To do good is what properly belongs to him, and according to his nature; and from him all good things come to us. Then, whatever evil he does, is not agreeable to his nature. But as it sometimes happens, that he who quits himself well through life, yet in some things fails, he meets this doubt by denying that God is mutable like men. But if God is in all things and always like himself, it hence follows that well-doing is his perpetual work.
Be not deceived (me planasthe). Prohibition with me and the present passive imperative of planao, common verb to lead astray. This is the way of sin to deceive and to kill (Rom_7:7-14). The devil is a pastmaster at blinding men’s eyes about sin (2Co_4:4; Rom_1:27; Eph_4:14; etc.).
This reasoning is far different from that of Plato, who maintained that no calamities are sent on men by God, because he is good; for though it is just that the crimes of men should be punished by God, yet it is not right, with regard to him, to regard among evils that punishment which he justly inflicts. Plato, indeed, was ignorant; but James, leaving to God his right and office of punishing, only removes blame from him. This passage teaches us, that we ought to be so affected by God’s innumerable blessings, which we daily receive from his hand, as to think of nothing but of his glory; and that we should abhor whatever comes to our mind, or is suggested by others, which is not compatible with his praise.
God is called the Father of lights, as possessing all excellency and the highest dignity. And when he immediately adds, that there is in him no shadow of turning, he continues the metaphor; so that we may not measure the brightness of God by the irradiation of the sun which appears to us.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above – Whatever is good is from God; whatever is evil is from man himself. As from the sun, which is the father or fountain of light, all light comes; so from God, who is the infinite Fountain, Father, and Source of good, all good comes. And whatever can be called good, or pure, or light, or excellence of any kind, must necessarily spring from him, as he is the only source of all goodness and perfection.
With whom is no variableness – The sun, the fountain of light to the whole of our system, may be obscured by clouds; or the different bodies which revolve round him, and particularly the earth, may from time to time suffer a diminution of his light by the intervention of other bodies eclipsing his splendor; and his apparent tropical variation, shadow of turning; when, for instance, in our winter, he has declined to the southern tropic, the tropic of Capricorn, so that our days are greatly shortened, and we suffer in consequence a great diminution both of light and heat. But there is nothing of this kind with God; he is never affected by the changes and chances to which mortal things are exposed. He occupies no one place in the universe; he fills the heavens and the earth, is everywhere present, sees all, pervades all, and shines upon all; dispenses his blessings equally to the universe; hates nothing that he has made; is loving to every man; and his tender mercies are over all his works: therefore he is not affected with evil, nor does he tempt, or influence to sin, any man. The sun, the source of light, rises and sets with a continual variety as to the times of both, and the length of the time in which, in the course of three hundred and sixty-five days, five hours, forty-eight minutes, and forty-eight seconds, it has its revolution through the ecliptic, or rather the earth has its revolution round the sun; and by which its light and heat are, to the inhabitants of the earth, either constantly increasing or decreasing: but God, the Creator and Preserver of all things, is eternally the same, dispensing his good and perfect gifts – his earthly and heavenly blessings, to all his creatures, ever unclouded in himself, and ever nilling Evil and willing Good. Men may hide themselves from his light by the works of darkness, as owls and bats hide themselves in dens and caves of the earth during the prevalency of the solar light: but his good will to his creatures is permanent; he wills not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may come unto him and live; and no man walks in wretchedness or misery but he who will not come unto God that he may have life. See diagram and notes at the end of this chapter.
Every good gift and every perfect gift – The difference between good and perfect here, it is not easy to mark accurately. It may be that the former means that which is benevolent in its character and tendency; the latter that which is entire, where there is nothing even apparently wanting to complete it; where it can be regarded as good as a whole and in all its parts. The general sense is, that God is the author of all good. Every thing that is good on the earth we are to trace to him; evil has another origin. Compare Mat_13:28.
Is from above – From God, who is often represented as dwelling above – in heaven.
And cometh down from the Father of lights – From God, the source and fountain of all light. Light, in the Scriptures, is the emblem ot knowledge, purity, happiness; and God is often represented as light. Compare 1Jo_1:5. Notes, 1Ti_6:16. There is, doubtless, an allusion here to the heavenly bodies, among which the sun is the most brilliant. It appears to us to be the great original fountain of light, diffusing its radiance overall worlds. No cloud, no darkness seems to come from the sun, but it pours its rich effulgence on the farthest part of the universe. So it is with God. There is no darkness in him 1Jo_1:5; and all the moral light and purity which there is in the universe is to be traced to him. The word Father here is used in a sense which is common in Hebrew (Compare the notes at Mat_1:1) as denoting that which is the source of anything, or that from which anything proceeds. Compare the notes at Isa_9:6.
With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning – The design here is clearly to contrast God with the sun in a certain respect. As the source of light, there is a strong resemblance. But in the sun there are certain changes. It does not shine on all parts of the earth at the same time, nor in the same manner all the year. It rises and sets; it crosses the line, and seems to go far to the south, and sends its rays obliquely on the earth; then it ascends to the north, recrosses the line, and sends its rays obliquely on southern regions. By its revolutions it produces the changes of the seasons, and makes a constant variety on the earth in the productions of different climes. In this respect God is not indeed like the sun. With him there is no variableness, not even the appearance of turning. He is always the same, at all seasons of the year, and in all ages; there is no change in his character, his mode of being, his purposes and plans. What he was millions of ages before the worlds were made, he is now; what he is now, he will be countless millions of ages hence. We may be sure that whatever changes there may be in human affairs; whatever reverses we may undergo; whatever oceans we may cross, or whatever mountains we may climb, or in whatever worlds we may hereafter take up our abode, God is the same. The word which is here rendered “variableness” (παραλλαγὴ parallagē) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It means change, alteration, vicissitude, and would properly be applied to the changes observed in astronomy. See the examples quoted in Wetstein. The phrase rendered “shadow of turning” would properly refer to the different shade or shadow cast by the sun from an object, in its various revolutions, in rising and setting, and in its changes at the different seasons of the year. God, on the other hand, is as if the sun stood in the meridian at noon-day, and never cast any shadow.
18 Of his own will. He now brings forward a special proof of the goodness of God which he had mentioned, even that he has regenerated us unto eternal life. This invaluable benefit every one of the faithful feels in himself. Then the goodness of God, when known by experience, ought to remove from them all a contrary opinion respecting him.
When he says that God of his own will, or spontaneously, hath begotten us, he intimates that he was induced by no other reason, as the will and counsel of God are often set in opposition to the merits of men. What great thing, indeed, would it have been to say that God was not constrained to do this? But he impresses something more, that God according to his own goodwill hath begotten us, and has been thus a cause to himself. It hence follows that it is natural to God to do good.
But this passage teaches us, that as our election before the foundation of the world was gratuitous, so we are illuminated by the grace of God alone as to the knowledge of the truth, so that our calling corresponds with our election. The Scripture shews that we have been gratuitously adopted by God before we were born. But James expresses here something more, that we obtain the right of adoption, because God does also call us gratuitously. (Eph_1:4.) Farther, we hence learn, that it is the peculiar office of God spiritually to regenerate us; for that the same thing is sometimes ascribed to the ministers of the gospel, means no other thing than this, that God acts through them; and it happens indeed through them, but he nevertheless alone doeth the work.
The word begotten means that we become new men, so that we put off our former nature when we are effectually called by God. He adds how God begets us, even by the word of truth, so that we may know that we cannot enter the kingdom of God by any other door.
That we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. The word τινὰ, “some,” has the meaning of likeness, as though he had said, that we are in a manner firstfruits. But this ought not to be restricted to a few of the faithful; but it belongs to all in common. For as man excels among all creatures, so the Lord elects some from the whole mass and separates them as a holy offering, to himself. It is no common nobility into which God extols his own children. Then justly are they said to be excellent as firstfruits, when God’s image is renewed in them.
Of his own will – Greek “willing.” βουληθεὶς bouletheis. The idea is, that the fact that we are “begotten” to be his children is to be traced solely to his will. He purposed it, and it was done. The antecedent in the case on which all depended was the sovereign will of God. See this sentiment explained in the notes at Joh_1:13. Compare the notes at Eph_1:5. When it is said, however, that he has done this by his mere will, it is not to be inferred that there was no reason why it should be done, or that the exercise of his will was arbitrary, but only that his will determined the matter, and that is the cause of our conversion. It is not to be inferred that there are not in all cases good reasons why God wills as he does, though those reasons are not often stated to us, and perhaps we could not comprehend them if they were. The object of the statement here seems to be to direct the mind up to God as the source of good and not evil; and among the most eminent illustrations of his goodness is this, that by his mere will, without any external power to control him, and where there could be nothing but benevolence, he has adopted us into his family, and given us a most exalted condition, as renovated beings, among his creatures.
Begat he us – The Greek word here is the same which in Jam_1:15 is rendered “bringeth forth,” – “sin bringeth forth death.” The word is perhaps designedly used here in contrast with that, and the object is to refer to a different kind of production, or bringing forth, under the agency of sin, and the agency of God. The meaning here is, that we owe the beginning of our spiritual life to God.
With the word of truth – By the instrumentality of truth. It was not a mere creative act, but it was by truth as the seed or germ. There is no effect produced in our minds in regeneration which the truth is not fitted to produce, and the agency of God in the case is to secure its fair and full influence on the soul.
That we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures – Compare Eph_1:12. For the meaning of the word rendered “first-fruits,” see the note at Rom_8:23. Compare Rom_11:6; Rom_16:5; 1Co_15:20, 1Co_15:23; 1Co_16:15; Rev_14:4. It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament It denotes, properly, that which is first taken from anything; the portion which was usually offered to God. The phrase here does not primarily denote eminence in honor or degree, but refers rather to time – the first in time; and in a secondary sense it is then used to denote the honor attached to that circumstance. The meaning here is, either.
(1) that, under the gospel, those who were addressed by the apostles had the honor of being first called into his kingdom as a part of that glorious harvest which it was designed to gather in this world, and that the goodness of God was manifested in thus furnishing the first-fruits of a most glorious harvest; or,
(2) the reference may be to the rank and dignity which all who are born again would have among the creatures of God in virtue of the new birth.