Epistle of James Chapter 1:19-27 Antique Commentary Quotes

John Calvin
Jas 1:19
19Let every man. Were this a general sentence, the inference would be farfetched; but as he immediately adds a sentence respecting the word of truth suitable to the last verse, I doubt not but that he accommodates this exhortation peculiarly to the subject in hand. Having then set before us the goodness of God, he shews how it becomes us to be prepared to receive the blessing which he exhibits towards us. And this doctrine is very useful, for spiritual generation is not a work of one moment. Since some remnants of the old man ever abide in us, we must necessarily be through life renewed, until the flesh be abolished; for either our perverseness, or arrogance, or sloth, is a great impediment to God in perfecting in us his work. Hence, when James would have us to be swift to hear, he commends promptitude, as though he had said, “When God so freely and kindly presents himself to you, you also ought to render yourselves teachable, lest your slowness should cause him to desist from speaking.”

But inasmuch as we do not calmly hear God speaking to us, when we seem to ourselves to be very wise, but by our haste interrupt him when addressing us, the Apostle requires us to be silent, to be slow to speak. And, doubtless, no one can be a true disciple of God, except he hears him in silence. He does not, however, require the silence of the Pythagorean school, so that it should not be right to inquire whenever we desire to learn what is necessary to be known; but he would only have us to correct and restrain our forwardness, that we may not, as it commonly happens, unseasonably interrupt God, and that as long as he opens his sacred mouth, we may open to him our hearts and our ears, and not prevent him to speak.

Slow to wrath. Wrath also, I think, is condemned with regard to the hearing which God demands to be given to him, as though making a tumult it disturbed and impeded him, for God cannot be heard except when the mind is calm and sedate. Hence, he adds, that as long as wrath bears rule there is no place for the righteousness of God. In short, except the heat of contention be banished, we shall never observe towards God that calm silence of which he has just spoken.

Adam Clarke
Jas 1:19
Swift to hear – Talk little and work much, is a rabbinical adage. – Pirkey Aboth, cap. i. 15.
The righteous speak little, and do much; the wicked speak much, and do nothing. – Bava Metzia, fol. 87.
The son of Sirach says, cap. v. 11: Γινου ταχυς εν τη ακροασει σου, και εν μακροθυμια φθεγγου αποκρισιν. “Be swift to hear, and with deep consideration give answer.”

Slow to wrath – “There are four kinds of dispositions,” says the Midrash hanaalam, cap. v. 11: “First, Those who are easily incensed, and easily pacified; these gain on one hand, and lose on the other. Secondly, Those who are not easily incensed, but are difficult to be appeased; these lose on the one hand, and gain on the other. Thirdly, Those who are difficult to be incensed, and are easily appeased; these are the good. Fourthly, Those who are easily angered, and difficult to be appeased; these are the wicked.” Those who are hasty in speech are generally of a peevish or angry disposition. A person who is careful to consider what he says, is not likely to be soon angry.

Albert Barnes
Jas 1:19
Wherefore, my beloved brethren – The connection is this: “since God is the only source of good; since he tempts no man; and since by his mere sovereign goodness, without any claim on our part, we have had the high honor conferred on us of being made the first-fruits of his creatures, we ought to be ready to hear his voice, to subdue all our evil passions, and to bring our souls to entire practical obedience.” The necessity of obedience, or the doctrine that the gospel is not only to be learned but practiced, is pursued at length in this and the following chapter. The particular statement here Jam_1:19-21 is, that religion requires us to be meek and docile; to lay aside all irritability against the truth, and all pride of opinion, and all corruption of heart, and to receive meekly the ingrafted word. See the analysis of the chapter.

Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak – That is, primarily, to hear God; to listen to the instructions of that truth by which we have been begotten, and brought into so near relation to him. At the same time, though this is the primary sense of the phrase here, it may be regarded as inculcating the general doctrine that we are to be more ready to hear than to speak; or that we are to be disposed to learn always, and from any source. Our appropriate condition is rather that of learners than instructors; and the attitude of mind which we should cultivate is that of a readiness to receive information from any quarter. The ancients have some sayings on this subject which are well worthy of our attention. “Men have two ears, and but one tongue, that they should hear more than they speak.” “The ears are always open, ever ready to receive instruction; but the tongue is surrounded with a double row of teeth, to hedge it in, and to keep it within proper bounds.” See Benson. So Valerius Maximus, vii. 2.

“How noble was the response of Xenocrates! When he met the reproaches of others with a profound silence, someone asked him why he alone was silent. ‘Because,’ says he, ‘I have sometimes had occasion to regret that I have spoken, never that I was silent.’” See Wetstein. So the son of Sirach, “Be swift to hear, and with deep consideration (εν μακροθυμία en makrothumia) give answer.” So the Rabbis have some similar sentiments. “Talk little and work much.” Pirkey Aboth. c. i. 15. “The righteous speak little and do much; the wicked speak much and do nothing.” Bava Metsia, fol. 87. A sentiment similar to that before us is found in Ecc_5:2. “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God.” So Pro_10:19. “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin.” Pro_13:3. “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life.” Pro_15:2. “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright, but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.”

Slow to wrath – That is, we are to govern and restrain our temper; we are not to give indulgence to excited and angry passions. Compare Pro_16:32, “He that is slow to anger is greater than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” See also on this subject, Job_5:2; Pro_11:17; Pro_13:10; Pro_14:16; Pro_15:18; Pro_19:19; Pro_22:24; Pro_25:28; Ecc_7:9; Rom_12:17; 1Th_5:14; 1Pe_3:8. The particular point here is, however, not that we should be slow to wrath as a general habit of mind, which is indeed most true, but in reference particularly to the reception of the truth. We should lay aside all anger and wrath, and should come to the investigation of truth with a calm mind, and an imperturbed spirit. A state of wrath or anger is always unfavorable to the investigation of truth. Such an investigation demands a calm spirit, and he whose mind is excited and enraged is not in a condition to see the value of truth, or to weigh the evidence for it.

Albert Barnes
Jas 1:20
For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God – Does not produce in the life that righteousness which God requires. Its tendency is not to incline us to keep the law, but to break it; not to induce us to embrace the truth, but the opposite. The meaning of this passage is not that our wrath will make God either more or less righteous; but that its tendency is not to produce that upright course of life, and love of truth, which God requires. A man is never sure of doing right under the influence of excited feelings; he may do that which is in the highest sense wrong, and which he will regret all his life. The particular meaning of this passage is, that wrath in the mind of man will not have any tendency to make him righteous. It is only that candid state of mind which will lead him to embrace the truth which can be hoped to have such an effect.

A.T. Robertson
Jas 1:20
The wrath of man (orge andros). Here aner (as opposed to gune woman), not anthropos of Jam_1:19 (inclusive of both man and woman). If taken in this sense, it means that a man’s anger (settled indignation in contrast with thumos, boiling rage or fury) does not necessarily work God’s righteousness. There is such a thing as righteous indignation, but one is not necessarily promoting the cause of God by his own personal anger. See Act_10:35 for “working righteousness,” and Jam_2:9 for “working sin” (ergazomai both times).

John Calvin
Jas 1:21
21Wherefore lay apart. He concludes by saying how the word of life is to be received. And first, indeed, he intimates that it cannot be rightly received except it be implanted, or strike roots in us. For the expression, to receive the implanted word, ought to be thus explained, “to receive it, that it may be really implanted.” For he alludes to seed often sown on and ground, and not received into the moist bosom of the earth; or to plants, which being cast on the ground, or laid on dead wood, soon wither. He then requires that it should be a living implanting, by which the word becomes as it were united with our heart.

He at the same time shews the way and manner of this reception, even with meekness. By this word he means humility and the readiness of a mind disposed to learn, such as Isaiah describes when he says, “On whom does my Spirit rest, except on the humble and meek?” (Isa_57:15.)

Hence it is, that so far profit in the school of God, because hardly one in a hundred renounces the stubbornness of his own spirit, and gently submits to God; but almost all are conceited and refractory. But if we desire to be the living plantation of God, we must subdue our proud hearts and be humble, and labor to become like lambs, so as to suffer ourselves to be ruled and guided by our Shepherd.

But as men are never thus tamed, so as to have a calm and meek heart, except they are purged from depraved affections, so he bids us to lay aside uncleanness and redundancy of wickedness. And as James borrowed a comparison from agriculture, it was necessary for him to observe this order, to begin by rooting up noxious weeds. And since he addressed all, we may hence conclude that these are the innate evils of our nature, and that they cleave to us all; yea, since he addresses the faithful, he shews that we are never wholly cleansed from them in this life, but that they are continually sprouting up, and therefore he requires that care should be constantly taken to eradicate them. As the word of God is especially a holy thing; to be fitted to receive it, we must put off the filthy things by which we have been polluted.

Under the word κακία, he comprehends hypocrisy and obstinacy as well as unlawful desires or lusts. Not satisfied with specifying the seat of wickedness as being in the soul of man, he teaches us that so abounding is the wickedness that dwells there, that it overflows, or that it rises up as it were into a heap; and doubtless, whosoever will well examine himself will find that there is within him an immense chaos of evils.

Which is able to save. It is a high eulogy on heavenly truth, that we obtain through it a sure salvation; and this is added, that we may learn to seek and love and magnify the word as a treasure that is incomparable. It is then a sharp goad to chastise our idleness, when he says that the word which we are wont to hear so negligently, is the means of our salvation, though for this purpose the power of saving is not ascribed to the word, as if salvation is conveyed by the external sound of the word, or as if the office of saving is taken away from God and transferred elsewhere; for James speaks of the word which by faith penetrates into the hearts of men, and only intimates that God, the author of salvation, conveys it by his Gospel.

Adam Clarke
Jas 1:21
All filthiness – Πασαν ρυπαριαν. This word signifies any impurity that cleaves to the body; but applied to the mind, it implies all impure and unholy affections, such as those spoken of Jam_1:15, which pollute the soul; in this sense it is used by the best Greek writers.

Superfluity of naughtiness – Περισσειαν κακιας· The overflowing of wickedness. Perhaps there is an allusion here to the part cut off in circumcision, which was the emblem of impure desire; and to lessen that propensity, God, in his mercy, enacted this rite. Put all these evil dispositions aside, for they blind the soul, and render it incapable of receiving any good, even from that ingrafted word of God which otherwise would have saved their souls.

The ingrafted word – That doctrine which has already been planted among you, which has brought forth fruit in all them that have meekly and humbly received it, and is as powerful to save your souls as the souls of those who have already believed. I think this to be the meaning of εμφυτον λογον, the ingrafted word or doctrine. The seed of life had been sown in the land; many of them had received it to their salvation; others had partially credited it, but not so as to produce in them any saving effects. Besides, they appear to have taken up with other doctrines, from which they had got no salvation; he therefore exhorts them to receive the doctrine of Christ, which would be the means of saving them unto eternal life. And when those who were Jews, and who had been originally planted by God as altogether a right vine, received the faith of the Gospel, it is represented as being ingrafted on that right stock, the pure knowledge of the true God and his holy moral law. This indeed was a good stock on which to implant Christianity. This appears to be what the apostle means by the ingrafted word, which is able to save the soul.

Albert Barnes
Jas 1:21
Wherefore – In view of the fact that God has begotten us for his own service; in view of the fact that excited feeling tends only to wrong, let us lay aside all that is evil, and submit ourselves wholly to the influence of truth.

Lay apart all filthiness – The word here rendered filthiness, occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, It means properly filth; and then is applied to evil conduct considered as disgusting or offensive. Sin may be contemplated as a wrong thing; as a violation of law; as evil in its nature and tendency, and therefore to be avoided; or it may be contemplated as disgusting, offensive, loathsome. To a pure mind, this is one of its most odious characteristics; for, to such a mind, sin in any form is more loathsome than the most offensive object can be to any of the senses.

And superfluity of haughtiness – Literally, “abounding of evil.” It is rendered by Doddridge, “overflowing of malignity;” by Tindal, “superfluity of maliciousness;” by Benson, “superfluity of malice;” by Bloomfield, “petulance.” The phrase “superfluity of haughtiness,” or of evil, does not exactly express the sense, as if we were only to lay aside that which abounded, or which is superfluous, though we might retain that which does not come under this description; but the object of the apostle is to express his deep abhorrence of the thing referred to by strong and emphatic language. He had just spoken of sin in one aspect, as filthy, loathsome, detestable; here he designs to express his abhorrence of it by a still more emphatic description, and he speaks of it not merely as an evil, but as an evil abounding, overflowing; an evil in the highest degree. The thing referred to had the essence of evil in it (κακία kakia); but it was not merely evil, it was evil that was aggravated, that was overflowing, that was eminent in degree (περισσείαν perisseian). The particular reference in these passages is to the reception of the truth; and the doctrine taught is, that a corrupt mind, a mind full of sensuality and wickedness, is not favorable to the reception of the truth. It is not fitted to see its beauty, to appreciate its value, to understand its just claims, or to welcome it to the soul. Purity of heart is the best preparation always for seeing the force of truth.

And receive with meekness – That is, open the mind and heart to instruction, and to the fair influence of truth. Meekness, gentleness, docility, are everywhere required in receiving the instructions of religion, as they are in obtaining knowledge of any kind. See the notes at Mat_18:2-3.

The engrafted word – The gospel is here represented under the image of that which is implanted or engrafted from another source; by a figure that would be readily understood, for the art of engrafting is everywhere known. Sometimes the gospel is represented under the image of seed sown (Compare Mar_6:14, following); but here it is under the figure of a shoot implanted or engrafted, that produces fruit of its own, whatever may be the original character of the tree into which it is engrafted. Compare the notes at Rom_11:17. The meaning here is, that we should allow the principles of the gospel to be thus engrafted on our nature; that however crabbed or perverse our nature may be, or however bitter and vile the fruits which it might bring forth of its own accord, it might, through the engrafted word, produce the fruits of righteousness.
Which is able to save your souls – It is not, therefore, a weak and powerless thing, merely designed to show its own feebleness, and to give occasion for God to work a miracle; but it has power, and is adapted to save. Compare the notes at Rom_1:16; 1Co_1:18; 2Ti_3:15.

John Calvin
Jas 1:22
22Be ye doers of the word. The doer here is not the same as in Rom_2:13, who satisfied the law of God and fulfilled it in every part, but the doer is he who from the heart embraces God’s word and testifies by his life that he really believes, according to the saying of Christ, “Blessed are they who hear God’s word and keep it,”(Luk_11:28;) for he shews by the fruits what that implanting is, before mentioned. We must further observe, that faith with all its works is included by James, yea, faith especially, as it is the chief work which God requires from us. The import of the whole is, that we ought to labor that the word of the Lord should strike root in us, so that it may afterwards fructify.

Albert Barnes
Jas 1:22
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only – Obey the gospel, and do not merely listen to it. Compare Mat_7:21.

Deceiving your own selves – It is implied here, that by merely hearing the word but not doing it, they would deceive their own souls. The nature of this deception was this, that they would imagine that that was all which was required, whereas the main thing was that they should be obedient. If a man supposes that by a mere punctual attendance on preaching, or a respectful attention to it, he has done all that is required of him, he is laboring under a most gross self-deception. And yet there are multitudes who seem to imagine that they have done all that is demanded of them when they have heard attentively the word preached. Of its influence on their lives, and its claims to obedience, they are utterly regardless.

John Calvin
Jas 1:23
23He is like to a man. Heavenly doctrine is indeed a mirror in which God presents himself to our view; but so that we may be transformed unto his image, as Paul says in 2Co_3:18. But here he speaks of the external glance of the eye, not of the vivid and efficacious meditation which penetrates into the heart. It is a striking comparison, by which he briefly intimates, that a doctrine merely heard and not received inwardly into the heart avails nothing, because it soon vanishes away.

Adam Clarke
Jas 1:23
Beholding his natural face in a glass – This metaphor is very simple, but very expressive. A man wishes to see his own face, and how, in its natural state, it appears; for this purpose he looks into a mirror, by which his real face, with all its blemishes and imperfections, is exhibited. He is affected with his own appearance; he sees deformities that might be remedied; spots, superfluities, and impurities, that might be removed. While he continues to look into the mirror he is affected, and wishes himself different to what he appears, and forms purposes of doing what he can to render his countenance agreeable. On going away he soon forgets what manner of person he was, because the mirror is now removed, and his face is no longer reflected to himself; and he no longer recollects how disagreeable he appeared, and his own resolutions of improving his countenance. The doctrines of God, faithfully preached, are such a mirror; he who hears cannot help discovering his own character, and being affected with his own deformity; he sorrows, and purposes amendment; but when the preaching is over, the mirror is removed, and not being careful to examine the records of his salvation, the perfect law of liberty, Jam_1:25, or not continuing to look therein, he soon forgets what manner of man he was; or, reposing some unscriptural trust in God’s mercy, he reasons himself out of the necessity of repentance and amendment of life, and thus deceives his soul.

John Calvin
Jas 1:25
25The perfect law of liberty. After having spoken of empty speculation, he comes now to that penetrating intuition which transforms us to the image of God. And as he had to do with the Jews, he takes the word law, familiarly known to them, as including the whole truth of God.

But why he calls it a perfect law, and a law of liberty, interpreters have not been able to understand; for they have not perceived that there is here a contrast, which may be gathered from other passages of Scripture. As long as the law is preached by the external voice of man, and not inscribed by the finger and Spirit of God on the heart, it is but a dead letter, and as it were a lifeless thing. It is, then, no wonder that the law is deemed imperfect, and that it is the law of bondage; for as Paul teaches in Gal_4:24, separated from Christ, it generates to condemn and as the same shews to us in Rom_8:13, it can do nothing but fill us with diffidence and fear. But the Spirit of regeneration, who inscribes it on our inward parts, brings also the grace of adoption. It is, then, the same as though James had said, “The teaching of the law, let it no longer lead you to bondage, but, on the contrary, bring you to liberty; let it no longer be only a schoolmaster, but bring you to perfection: it ought to be received by you with sincere affection, so that you may lead a godly and a holy life.”

Moreover, since it is a blessing of the Old Testament that the law of God should reform us, as it appears from Jer_31:33, and other passages, it follows that it cannot be obtained until we come to Christ. And, doubtless, he alone is the end and perfection of the law; and James adds liberty, as an inseparable associate, because the Spirit of Christ never regenerates but that he becomes also a witness and an earnest of our divine adoption, so as to free our hearts from fear and trembling.

And continueth. This is firmly to persevere in the knowledge of God; and when he adds, this man shall be blessed in his deed, or work, he means that blessedness is to be found in doing, not in cold hearing.

Adam Clarke
Jas 1:25
But whoso looketh into the perfect law – The word παρακυψας, which we translate looketh into, is very emphatic, and signifies that deep and attentive consideration given to a thing or subject which a man cannot bring up to his eyes, and therefore must bend his back and neck, stooping down, that he may see it to the greater advantage. The law of liberty must mean the Gospel; it is a law, for it imposes obligations from God, and prescribes a rule of life; and it punishes transgressors, and rewards the obedient. It is, nevertheless, a law that gives liberty from the guilt, power, dominion, and influence of sin; and it is perfect, providing a fullness of salvation for the soul: and it may be called perfect here, in opposition to the law, which was a system of types and representations of which the Gospel is the sum and substance. Some think that the word τελειον, perfect, is added here to signify that the whole of the Gospel must be considered and received, not a part; all its threatenings with its promises, all its precepts with its privileges.

And continueth – Παραμεινας· Takes time to see and examine the state of his soul, the grace of his God, the extent of his duty, and the height of the promised glory. The metaphor here is taken from those females who spend much time at their glass, in order that they may decorate themselves to the greatest advantage, and not leave one hair, or the smallest ornament, out of its place.

He being not a forgetful hearer – This seems to be a reference to Deu_4:9 : “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life.” He who studies and forgets is like to a woman who brings forth children, and immediately buries them. Aboth R. Nathan, cap. 23.

Shall be blessed in his deed – In Pirkey Aboth, cap. Deu_4:14, it is said: “There are four kinds of men who visit the synagogues,
1. He who enters but does not work;
2. He who works but does not enter.
3. He who enters and works.
4. He who neither enters nor works.
The first two are indifferent characters; the third is the righteous man; the fourth is wholly evil.”
As the path of duty is the way of safety, so it is the way of happiness; he who obeys God from a loving heart and pure conscience, will infallibly find continual blessedness.

Albert Barnes
Jas 1:25
But whoso looketh – (παρακύψας parakupsas). This word means, to stoop down near by anything; to bend forward near, so as to look at anything more closely. See the word explained in the notes at 1Pe_1:12. The idea here is that of a close and attentive observation. The object is not to contrast the manner of looking in the glass, and in the law of liberty, implying that the former was a “careless beholding,” and the latter an attentive and careful looking, as Doddridge, Rosenmuller, Bloomfield, and others suppose; for the word used in the former case (κατενόησε katanoese) implies intense or accurate observation, as really as the word used here; but the object is to show that if a man would attentively look into, and continue in the law of liberty, and not do as one who went away and forgot how he looked, he would be blessed. The emphasis is not in the manner of looking, it is on the duty of continuing or persevering in the observance of the law.

The perfect law of liberty – Referring to the law of God or his will, however made known, as the correct standard of conduct. It is called the perfect law, as being wholly free from all defects; being just such as a law ought to be. Compare Psa_19:7. It is called the law of liberty, or freedom because it is a law producing freedom from the servitude of sinful passions and lusts. Compare Psa_119:45; Notes, Rom_6:16-18.

And continueth therein – He must not merely look at the law, or see what he is by comparing himself with its requirements, but he must yield steady obedience to it. See the notes at Joh_14:21.

This man shall be blessed in his deed – Margin, doing. The meaning is, that he shall be blessed in the very act of keeping the law. It will produce peace of conscience; it will impart happiness of a high order to his mind; it will exert a good influence over his whole soul. Psa_19:11. “In keeping of them there is great reward.”

John Calvin
Jas 1:26
26Seem to be religious. He now reproves even in those who boasted that they were doers of the law, a vice under which hypocrites commonly labor, that is, the wantonness of the tongue in detraction. He has before touched on the duty of restraining the tongue, but for a different end; for he then bade silence before God, that we might be more fitted to learn. He speaks now of another thing, that the faithful should not employ their tongue in evil speaking.

It was indeed needful that this vice should be condemned, when the subject was the keeping of the law; for they who have put off the grosser vices, are especially subject to this disease. He who is neither an adulterer, nor a thief, nor a drunkard, but, on the contrary, seems brilliant with some outward shew of sanctity will set himself off by defaming others, and this under the pretense of zeal, but really through the lust of slandering.

The object here, then, was to distinguish between the true worshippers of God and hypocrites, who are so swollen with Pharisaic pride, that they seek praise from the defects of others. If any one,he says, seems to be religious,that is, who has a show of sanctity, and the meantime flatters himself by speaking evil of others, it is hence evident that he does not truly serve God. For by saying that his religion is vain, he not only intimates that other virtues are marred by the stain of evil-speaking, but that the conclusion is, that the zeal for religion which appears is not sincere.

But deceiveth his own heart. I do not approve of the version of Erasmus — “But suffers his heart to err;” for he points out the fountain of that arrogance to which hypocrites are addicted, through which, being blinded by an immoderate love of themselves, they believe themselves to be far better than they really are; and hence, no doubt, is the disease of slandering, because the wallet, as Aesop says in his Apologue, hanging behind, is not seen. Rightly, then, has James, wishing to remove the effect, that is, the lust of evil-speaking, added the cause, even that hypocrites flatter themselves immoderately. For they would be ready to forgive were they in their turn to acknowledge themselves to be in need of forgiveness. Hence the flatteries by which they deceive themselves as to their own vices, make them such supercilious censors of others.

Albert Barnes
Jas 1:26
If any man among you seem to be religious – Pious, or devout. That is, if he does not restrain his tongue, his other evidences of religion are worthless. A man may undoubtedly have many things in his character which seem to be evidences of the existence of religion in his heart, and yet there may be some one thing that shall show that all those evidences are false. Religion is designed to produce an effect on our whole conduct; and if there is any one thing in reference to which it does not bring us under its control, that one thing may show that all other appearances of piety are worthless.

And bridleth not his tongue – Restrains or curbs it not, as a horse is restrained with a bridle. There may have been some reason why the apostle referred to this particular sin which is now unknown to us; or he may perhaps have intended to select this as a specimen to illustrate this idea, that if there is any one evil propensity which religion does not control, or if there is any one thing in respect to which its influence is not felt, whatever other evidences of piety there may be, this will demonstrate that all those appearances of religion are vain. For religion is designed to bring the whole man under control, and to subdue every faculty of the body and mind to its demands. If the tongue is not restrained, or if there is any unsubdued propensity to sin whatever, it proves that there is no true religion.

But deceiveth his own heart – Implying that he does deceive his heart by supposing that any evidence can prove that he is under the influence of religion if his tongue is unrestrained. Whatever love, or zeal, or orthodoxy, or gift in preaching or in prayer he may have, this one evil propensity will neutralize it all, and show that there is no true religion at heart.

This man’s religion is vain – As all religion must be which does not control all the faculties of the body and the mind. The truths, then, which are taught in this verse are:

(1) That there may be evidences of piety which seem to be very plausible or clear, but which in themselves do not prove that there is any true religion. There may be much zeal, as in the case of the Pharisees; there may be much apparent love of Christians, or much outward benevolence; there may be an uncommon gift in prayer; there may be much self-denial, as among those who withdraw from the world in monasteries or nunneries; or there may have been deep conviction for sin, and much joy at the time of the supposed conversion, and still there be no true religion. Each and all of these things may exist in the heart where there is no true religion.

(2) a single unsubdued sinful propensity neutralizes all these things, and shows that there is no true religion. If the tongue is not subdued; if any sin is indulged, it will show that the seat of the evil has not been reached, and that the soul, as such, has never been brought into subjection to the law of God. For the very essence of all the sin that there was in the soul may have been concentrated on that one propensity. Everything else which may be manifested may be accounted for on the supposition that there is no religion; this cannot be accounted for on the supposition that there is any.

John Calvin
Jas 1:27
27Pure religion. As he passes by those things which are of the greatest moment in religion, he does not define generally what religion is, but reminds us that religion without the things he mentions is nothing; as when one given to wine and gluttony boasts that he is temperate, and another should object, and say that the temperate man is he who does not indulge in excess as to wine or eating; his object is not to express the whole of what temperance is, but to refer only to one thing, suitable to the subject in hand. For they are in vain religious of whom he speaks, as they are for the most part trifling pretenders.

James then teaches us that religion is not to be estimated by the pomp of ceremonies; but that there are important duties to which the servants of God ought to attend.

To visit in necessity is to extend a helping hand to alleviate such as are in distress. And as there are many others whom the Lord bids us to succor, in mentioning widows and orphans, he states a part for the whole. There is then no doubt but that under one particular thing he recommends to us every act of love, as though he had said, “Let him who would be deemed religious, prove himself to be such by self denial and by mercy and benevolence towards his neighbors.”

Adam Clarke
Jas 1:27
Pure religion, and undefiled – Having seen something of the etymology of the word θρησκεια, which we translate religion, it will be well to consider the etymology of the word religion itself.
In the 28th chapter of the 4th book of his Divine Instructions, Lactantius, who flourished about a.d. 300, treats of hope, true religion, and superstition; of the two latter he gives Cicero’s definition from his book De Natura Deorum, lib. ii. c. 28, which with his own definition will lead us to a correct view, not only of the etymology, but of the thing itself.

“Superstition,” according to that philosopher, “had its name from the custom of those who offered daily prayers and sacrifices, that their children might Survive Them; ut sui sibi liberi superstites essent. Hence they were called superstitiosi, superstitious. On the other hand, religion, religio, had its name from those who, not satisfied with what was commonly spoken concerning the nature and worship of the gods, searched into the whole matter, and perused the writings of past times; hence they were called religiosi, from re, again, and lego, I read.”

This definition Lactantius ridicules, and shows that religion has its name from re, intensive, and ligo, I bind, because of that bond of piety by which it binds us to God, and this he shows was the notion conceived of it by Lucretius, who labored to dissolve this bond, and make men atheists.

Primum quod magnis doceo de rebus, et Arctis Religionum animos Nodis Exsolvere pergo.

For first I teach great things in lofty strains,And loose men from religion’s grievous chains.
Lucret., lib. i., ver. 930, 931

As to superstition, he says it derived its name from those who paid religious veneration to the memory of the dead, (qui superstitem memoriam defunctorem colunt), or from those who, surviving their parents, worshipped their images at home, as household gods; aut qui, parentibus suis superstites, colebant imagines eorum domi, tanquam deos penates. Superstition, according to others, refers to novel rites and ceremonies in religion, or to the worship of new gods. But by religion are meant the ancient forms of worship belonging to those gods, which had long been received. Hence that saying of Virgil: – Vana superstitio veterumque ignara deorum. “Vain superstition not knowing the ancient gods.”

Here Lactantius observes, that as the ancient gods were consecrated precisely in the same way with these new ones, that therefore it was nothing but superstition from the beginning. Hence he asserts, the superstitious are those who worship many and false gods, and the Christians alone are religious, who worship and supplicate the one true God only. St. James’ definition rather refers to the effects of pure religion than to its nature. The life of God in the soul of man, producing love to God and man, will show itself in the acts which St. James mentions here. It is pure in the principle, for it is Divine truth and Divine love. It is undefiled in all its operations: it can produce nothing unholy, because it ever acts in the sight of God; and it can produce no ungentle word nor unkind act, because it comes from the Father.

The words καθαρα και αμιαντος, pure and undefiled, are supposed to have reference to a diamond or precious stone, whose perfection consists in its being free from flaws; not cloudy, but of a pure water. True religion is the ornament of the soul, and its effects, the ornament of the life.

To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction – Works of charity and mercy are the proper fruits of religion; and none are more especially the objects of charity and mercy than the orphans and widows. False religion may perform acts of mercy and charity; but its motives not being pure, and its principle being defiled, the flesh, self, and hypocrisy, spot the man, and spot his acts. True religion does not merely give something for the relief of the distressed, but it visits them, it takes the oversight of them, it takes them under its care; so επισκεπτεσθαι means. It goes to their houses, and speaks to their hearts; it relieves their wants, sympathizes with them in their distresses, instructs them in Divine things and recommends them to God. And all this it does for the Lord’s sake. This is the religion of Christ. The religion that does not prove itself by works of charity and mercy is not of God. Reader, what religion hast thou? Has thine ever led thee to cellars, garrets, cottages, and houses, to find out the distressed? Hast thou ever fed, clothed, and visited a destitute representative of Christ?

And he says, before God, to intimate that it appears in deed otherwise to men, who are led astray by external masks, but that we ought to seek what pleases him. By God and Father, we are to understand God who is a father.

Albert Barnes
Jas 1:27
Pure religion – On the word here rendered “religion” (θρησκεία threskeia), see the notes at Col_2:18. It is used here evidently in the sense of piety, or as we commonly employ the word religion. The object of the apostle is to describe what enters essentially into religion; what it will do when it is properly and fairly developed. The phrase “pure religion” means that which is genuine and sincere, or which is free from any improper mixture.

And undefiled before God and the Father – That which God sees to be pure and undefiled. Rosenmuller supposes that there is a metaphor here taken from pearls or gems, which should be pure, or without stain.
Is this – That is, this enters into it; or this is religion such as God approves. The apostle does not say that this is the whole of religion, or that there is nothing else essential to it; but his general design clearly is, to show that religion will lead to a holy life, and he mentions this as a specimen, or an instance of what it will lead us to do. The things which he specifies here are in fact two:

(1) that pure religion will lead to a life of practical benevolence; and,

(2) that it will keep us unspotted from the world. If these things are found, they show that there is true piety. If they are not, there is none.

To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction – To go to see, to look after, to be ready to aid them. This is an instance or specimen of what true religion will do, showing that it will lead to a life of practical benevolence. It may be remarked in respect to this:

(1) that this has always been regarded as an essential thing in true religion; because

(a) it is thus an imitation of God, who is “a father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows in his holy habitation,” Psa_68:5; and who has always revealed himself as their friend, Deu_10:18; Deu_14:29; Psa_10:14; Psa_82:3; Isa_1:17; Jer_7:7; Jer_49:11; Hos_14:3.

(b) Religion is represented as leading its friends to do this, or this is required everywhere of those who claim to be religious, Isa_1:17; Deu_24:17; Deu_14:29; Exo_22:22; Job_29:11-13.

(2) where this disposition to be the real friend of the widow and the orphan exists, there will also exist other corresponding things which go to make up the religious character. This will not stand alone. It will show what the heart is, and prove that it will ever be ready to do good. If a man, from proper motives, is the real friend of the widow and the fatherless, he will be the friend of every good word and work, and we may rely on him in any and every way in doing good.

And to keep himself unspotted from the world – Compare the Rom_12:2 note; Jam_4:4 note; 1Jo_2:15-17 note. That is, religion will keep us from the maxims, vices, and corruptions which prevail in the world, and make us holy. These two things may, in fact, be said to constitute religion. If a man is truly benevolent, he bears the image of that God who is the fountain of benevolence; if he is pure and uncontaminated in his walk and deportment, he also resembles his Maker, for he is holy. If he has not these things, he cannot have any well-founded evidence that he is a Christian; for it is always the nature and tendency of religion to produce these things. It is, therefore, an easy matter for a man to determine whether he has any religion; and equally easy to see that religion is eminently desirable. Who can doubt that that is good which leads to compassion for the poor and the helpless, and which makes the heart and the life pure?

E.C.S. Gibson, Pulpit Commentary
Vers. 19-27. — EXHORTATION
Ver. 19. — The text requires correction. For w[ste… e]stw pa~v of the Textus Receptus, read, ]Iste ajdelfoi> moi ajgaphtoi e]stw demenoi ou=n pa~san kaki>an), and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil-speakings, as new-born babes long for the spiritual milk,” etc. Filthiness (rJupariv is the word used of the “filthy garments” in Zechariah 3:3, 4 — a narrative which illustrates the passage before us.
Kakia is not vice in general, but rather that vicious nature which is bent on doing harm to others (see Lightfoot on Colossians 3:8). Thus the two words rJupari>a and kaki>a comprise two classes of sins — the sensual and the malignant,

Engrafted; rather, implanted. The word is only found again in Wisd. 12:10, where it signifies “inborn.” St. James’s teaching here is almost like a reminiscence of the parable of the sower (Matthew13:3, etc.). The “implanted Word” is the gospel teaching. “The seed is theWord of God” (Luke 8:11).

Ver. 22. — They are not merely to receive and hear the Word; they must also act upon it. Compare St. Paul’s teaching in Romans 2:13, “For not the hearers (ajkroataiv occurs nowhere else except in these passages. Deceiving your own selves (paralogi>zein); to lead astray by false reasonings; only here and in Colossians 2:4. Not uncommon in the LXX.

Vers. 23, 24. — Illustration from life, showing the folly of being led astray.
His natural face (toswpon th~v gene>sewv aujtou~); literally, the face of his birth. The expression is an unusual one, but there is no doubt of its meaning. In a glass; rather, in a mirror, ejn ejso>ptrw|: cf. 1Corinthians 13:12, Dij ejso>ptrou. The mirror of burnished brass.

Ver. 25. — Application of the illustration in the form of a contrast. Looketh into (paraku>yav). For the literal sense of the word, see John 20:5, 11; Luke 24:12. The figurative meaning occurs only here and in 1 Peter 1:12. Properly it signifies to “peep into.” See its use in the LXX., Genesis 26:8; Proverbs 7:6; Ecclus. 21:23. When used figuratively, it conveys the idea of looking into, but scarcely with that intensive force which is often given to it and for which ejgku>ptein would be required (see Dr. Field’s ‘Otium Norvicense,’ p.147). Its use in St. Peter, loc. cit., is easy enough to explain. Angels desire even a glimpse of the mysteries. But what are we to say of its use here? Is it that, though the man took a good look at himself in the glass (katanoei~n, consider, is a very strong word; cf. Romans 4:19), yet he forgot what he was like, while the man who only peeps into the law of liberty is led on to abide (paramei>nav) and so to act? The perfect law of liberty; rather, the perfect law, even the law of liberty; no>mon te>leion toav. The substantive is anarthrous, yet the attributive has the article. This construction serves to give greater prominence to the attributive, and requires the rendering given above (see Winer, § 20:4).

The conception of the gospel as a “law” is characteristic of St. James (cf. James 2:8, “the royal law,” and James 4:11). A forgetful hearer (ajkroathv); i.e. a hearer characterized by forgetfulness, contrasted with a doer characterized by work.

Ver. 26. — Religious. It is difficult to find an English word which exactly answers to the Greek. The noun refers properly to the external rites of religion, and so gets to signify an over-scrupulous devotion to external forms (Lightfoot on Colossians 2:18); almost “ritualism.” It is the ceremonial service of religion, the external forms, a body of which eujsebei>a is the informing soul. Thus the qrh~skov (the word apparently only occurs here in the whole range of Greek literature) is the diligent performer of Divine offices, of the outward service of God, but not necessarily anything more. This depreciatory sense of qrhskei>a is wellseen in a passage of Philo (‘Quod Det. Pot. ‘Jus.,’ 7).

“How delicate and fine, then, St. James’s choice of qrh~skov and qrhskei>a! ‘If any man,’ he would say, ‘seem to himself to be qrh~skov, a diligent observer of the offices of religion, if any man would render a pure and undefiled qrhskei>a to God, let him know that this consists, not in outward lustrations or ceremonial observances; nay, that there is a better qrhskei>a than thousands of rams and rivers of oil, namely, to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with his God(Micah 6:7, 8); or, according to his own words, ‘ to visit the widows and orphans in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world’” (Trench on ‘Synonyms,’ p. 170: the whole passage will well repay study. Reference should also be made to Coleridge, ‘Aids to Reflection,’ p.15).

Ver. 27. — God and the Father; rather, our God and Father. The article (tw~|) binds together Qew~| and Patri>, so that they should not be separated, as in the A.V. To visit the fatherless… and to keep himself unspotted.

Observe that our duty towards our fellow-men is placed first; then that towards ourselves. jEpiske>ptesqai is the regular word for visiting the sick; cf. Ecclus. 7:35, “Be not slow to visit the sick (mhtespqai ajrjrJwston).” The fatherless and widows (ojrfanou<v kairav). These stand here (as so often in the Old Testament) as types of persons in distress; the “personae miserabiles” of the Canon Law (see e.g.Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 68:5; 82:3; Isaiah 1:17; and cf. Ecclus. 4:10). “Be as a father unto the fatherless, and instead of an husband unto their mother; so shalt thou be as the son of the Most High, and he shall love thee more than thy mother doth.” To keep himself unspotted. Man’s duty towards himself. (For a]spilon, cf. 1 Timothy 6:14; 1 Peter 1:19; 2 Peter 3:14.) From the world. This clause may be connected either with threi~n or with a]spilon, as in the phrase, kaqaro<v ajpo< in Acts 20:26.

Alfred Plummer, Expositors’ Commentary

“Be ye doers of the Word.” Both verb and tense are remarkable (gi>nesqe): “Become doers of the Word.” True Christian practice is a thing of growth; it is a process, and a process which has already begun, and is continually going on. We may compare, “Become ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16);”Therefore become ye also ready”(Matthew 24:44); and “Become not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27; where see Westcott’s note). “Become doers of the Word” is more expressive than “Be doers of the Word,” and a good deal more expressive than “Do the Word.” A “doer of the Word” (poihthgou) is such by profession and practice; the phrase expresses a habit. But one who merely incidentally performs what is prescribed may be said to “do the Word.” By the “Word” is meant what just before has been called the “implanted Word” and the “Word of truth” (vv. 21, 18), and what in this passage is also called “the perfect law, the law of liberty” (ver. 25), i.e., the Gospel.The parable of the Sower illustrates in detail the meaning of becoming an habitual doer of the implanted Word.

“And not hearers only.” The order of the words in the Greek is a little doubtful, the authorities being very much divided; but the balance is in favor of taking “only” closely with “hearers” (mh< ajkroatai< mu>non rather than mh< mo>non ajkroatai>);” Be not such as are mere hearers and nothing more.” The word for “hearer” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, excepting in the singularly similar passage in the Epistle to the Romans, which is one of the passages that give support to the theory that either St. Paul had seen this Epistle, or St. James had seen St. Paul’s: “Not the hearers (ajkroatai>) of a law are just before God, but the doers of a law shall be justified” (Romans 2:13). The verb (ajkroa>omai) does not occur in tile New Testament; but another cognate substantive (ajkroath>rion), meaning “a place of hearing,” is found in the Acts (Acts 25:23). In classical Greek this group of words indicates attentive listening, especially in the case of those who attend the lectures of philosophers and the addresses of public speakers. It is thus used frequently in Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, and Plutarch. It is somewhat too hastily concluded that there is nothing of this kind included either in this passage or in Romans 2:13. Possibly that is the very thing to which both St. James and St. Paul allude. St. James, in the address which he made to the so-called Council of Jerusalem, says, “Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21). The Jews came with great punctiliousness to these weekly gatherings, and listened with much attention to the public reading and exposition of the Law; and too many of them thought that with that the chief part of their duty was performed. This habitual public testimony of respect for the Mosaic Law and the traditional interpretations of it, and this zeal to acquire a knowledge of its contents and an insight into its meaning, was the main portion of what was required of them. This, St. James tells them, is miserably insufficient, whether what they hear be the Law or the Gospel, the Law with or without the illumination of the life of Christ “Being swift to hear” (ver. 19) and to understand is well, but “apart from works it is barren.” It is the habitual practice in striving to do what is heard and understood that is of value.

“Not a hearer that forgetteth, but a doer that worketh” is blessed, and “blessed in his doing.” To suppose that mere hearing brings a blessing is “deluding your own selves.” Bede rightly quotes Revelation 1:3 in illustration: “Blessed are they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein.”

The word here used for deluding (paralogizo>menoi) is found nowhere else in the New Testament, excepting in one passage m the Epistle to the Colossians (Colossians 2:4), in which St. Paul warns them against allowing any one to “delude them with persuasiveness of speech.” But the word is fairly common, both in ordinary Greek and in the Septuagint. Its meaning is to mislead with fallacious reasoning, and the substantive (paralogismo>v) is the Aristotelian term for a fallacy. The word does not necessarily imply that the fallacious reasoning is known to be fallacious by those who employ it. To express that we should rather have the word which is used in 2 Peter 1:16 to characterize “cunningly devised fables” (sesofisme>noi mu~qoi). Here we are to understand that the victims of the delusion do not, although they might, see the worthlessness of the reasons upon which their self-contentment is based. It is precisely in this that the danger of their position lies. Self-deceit is the most subtle and fatal deceit.

The mere knowledge of the law derived from their attentive listening to it does but increase their evil case, if they do not practice it. “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

The Jews have a saying that the man who hears without practicing is like a husbandman who ploughs and sows, but never reaps. Such an illustration, being taken from natural phenomena, would be quite in harmony with the manner of St. James; but he enforces his meaning by employing a far more striking illustration. He who is a hearer and not a doer “is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror.” Almost all the words in this sentence are worthy of separate attention.

“Is like unto a man” (ejoiken ajndri). St. James uses the more definite word, which usually excludes women, and sometimes boys also. He does not say, “is like unto a person” (ajnqrw>pw|), which would have included both sexes and all ages. A somewhat quaint explanation has been suggested by Paes and adopted as probable elsewhere; viz., that men, as a rule, give only a passing look to themselves in the glass; whereas it is a feminine weakness to be fond of attentive observations. But it is fatal to this suggestion that the word here used for beholding (katanoei~n) means to fix one’s mind upon, and consider attentively. It is the word used in “Consider the ravens,” and “Consider the lilies” (Luke 12:24, 27). Moreover, the Greeks sometimes do what we very frequently do in speaking of the human race; they employ the male sex as representative of both. This usage is found in the New Testament; e. g., “The queen of the South shall rise up in the judgment with the men (tw~n ajndrw~n) of this generation, and shall condemn them The men (ajndrev) of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment of this generation, and shall condemn it”(Luke 11:31, 32). Here it is impossible that the women are not included. And this use of “man” (ajnh>r) in the sense of human being is specially common in St. James. We have it four times in this chapter (vv. 8, 12, 20, 23), and again in the second (ver. 2) and third (ver. 2).

This man, then, attentively studies his natural face in a mirror. The words for “his natural face” literally mean “the face of his birth” (to< pro>swpon th~v gene>sewv aujtou~); i.e., the features with which he was born; and the mirror would be a piece of polished metal, which, however excellent, would not reflect the features with the clearness and fidelity of a modern looking-glass. Hence the necessity for attentive observation, the result of which is that the man recognizes his own face beyond all question. But what follows? “He beheld himself, and he has gone away, and he straightway forgot what manner of man he was.” The perfect tense between two aorists gives a lively simplicity to the narration (kateno>hsen… ajpelh>liqen… ejpela>qeto). This is represented as a common case, though not an invariable one. Most of us know our own features sufficiently well to recognize them in a good representation of them, but do not carry in our minds a very accurate image of them. But what has all this to do with being hearers, and not doers, of the Word? The spoken or written Word of God is the mirror. When we hear it preached, or study it for ourselves, we can find the reflection of ourselves in it, our temptations and weaknesses, our failings and sins, the influences of God’s Spirit upon us, and the impress of His grace. It is here that we notice one marked difference between the inspiration of the sacred writers and the inspiration of the poet and the dramatist. The latter show us other people to the life; Scripture shows us ourselves.

“Our mirror is a blessed book, Where out from each illumined page We see one glorious image look, All eyes to dazzle and engage, “The Son of God; and that indeed We see Him as He is we know, Since in the same bright glass we read The very life of things below.“Eye of God’s Word, where’er we turn Ever upon us I thy keen gaze Can all the depths of sin discern,Unravel every bosom’s maze.“Who that has felt thy glance of dread Thrill through his heart’s remotest cells, About his path, about his bed,Can doubt what Spirit in thee dwells?”

Keble’s metaphor is somewhat more elaborate than St. James’s. He represents the Bible as a mirror, out of which the reflected image of the Son of God looks upon us and reads our inmost selves. St. James supposes that in the mirror we see ourselves reflected. But the thought is the same, that through hearing or reading God s Word our knowledge of our characters is quickened. But does this quickened knowledge last? Does it lead to action, or influence our conduct? Too often we leave the church or our study, and the impression produced by the recognition of the features of our own case is obliterated. “We straightway forget what manner of men we are,” and the insight which has been granted to us into our own true selves is just one more wasted experience.

But this need not be so, and in some cases a very different result may be noticed. Instead of merely looking attentively for a short time, he may stoop down and pore over it. Instead of forthwith going away, he may continue in the study of it. And instead of straightway forgetting, he may prove a mindful doer that worketh. Thus the three parts of the two pictures are made exactly to balance. The word for “looking into” is an interesting one (paraku>ptein). It indicates bending forward to examine earnestly. It is used of Peter looking into the sepulcher (Luke 24:12, a verse of doubtful genuineness); and of Mary Magdalene doing the same (John 20:11); and of the angels desiring to look into heavenly mysteries (1 Peter 1:12). He who does this recognizes God’s Word as being “the perfect law, the law of liberty.” The two things are the same. It is when the It is when the law is seen to be perfect that it is found to be the law of liberty. So long as the law is not seen in the beauty of its perfection, it is not loved, and men either disobey it or obey it by constraint and unwillingly. It is then a law of bondage. But when its perfection is recognized men long to conform to it; and they obey, not because they must, but because they choose. To do what one likes is freedom, and they like to obey. It is in this way that the moral law of the Gospel becomes “the law of liberty,” not by imposing fewer obligations than the moral law of the Jew or of the Gentile, but by infusing into the hearts of those who welcome it a disposition and a desire to obey. Christian liberty is never license. It is not the relaxation of needful restraints, but the spontaneous acceptance of them as excellent in themselves and beneficial to those who observe them. It is the difference between a code imposed by another, and a constitution voluntarily adopted. To be made to work for one whom one fears is slavery and misery; to choose to work for one whom one loves is freedom and happiness. The Gospel has not abolished the moral law; it has supplied anew and adequate motive for fulfilling it.

“Being not a hearer that forgetteth.” Literally, “having become not a hearer of forgetfulness” (oujk ajkroathmenov); i.e., having by practice come to be a hearer, who is characterized, not by forgetfulness of what he hears, gut by attentive performance of it. The unusual word “forgetfulness” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, nor in classical Greek; but it is found in Ecclesiasticus (11:27), “The affliction of an hour causeth forgetfulness of pleasure;” and this adds a trifle to the evidence that St. James was acquainted with that book (see above, p. 573). “A hearer of forgetfulness” exactly balances, both in form and in thought, “a doer of work;” and this is well brought out by the Revisers, who turn both genitives by a relative clause: “a hearer that forgetteth,” and “a doer that worketh.” The Authorized Version is much less happy: “a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work.” There is no article in the Greek, and the translation of one genitive by an adjective, and of the other by a genitive, is unfortunate. “A doer of work” (poihthsei). Once more we have a word which is found nowhere else in the New Testament, but occurs in Ecclesiasticus (19:20), and with much the same meaning as here: “All wisdom is fear of the Lord; and in all wisdom there is doing of the law” (poihsiv no>mou). The correspondence between the meaning of St. James and the meaning of the son of Sirach is very close. Mere knowledge without performance is of little worth: it is in the doing that a blessing can be found.The danger against which St. James warns the Jewish Christians of the Dispersion is as pressing now as it was when he wrote. Never was there a time when interest in the Scriptures was more keen or more widely spread, especially among the educated classes; and never was there a time when greater facilities for gratifying this interest abounded. Commentaries, expositions, criticisms, introductions, helps of all kinds, — exegetical, homiletic, historical, and textual, — suitable both for learned and unlearned students, multiply year by year. But it is much to be feared that with many of us the interest in the sacred writings which is thus roused and fostered remains to a very large extent a literary interest. We are much more eager to know all about God’s Word than from it to learn His will respecting ourselves, that we may do it; to prove that a book is genuine than to practice what it enjoins. We study Lives of Christ, but we do not follow the life of Christ. We pay Him the empty homage of an intellectual interest in His words and works, but we do not the things which He says. We throng and press Him in our curiosity, but we obtain no blessing, because in all our hearing and learning there is no true wisdom, no fear of the Lord, and no doing of His Word.


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