Adam Clarke Commentary
The profligate rich are in danger of God‘s judgments, because of their pride, fraudulent dealings, riotous living, and cruelty, James 5:1-6. The oppressed followers of God should be patient, for the Lord‘s coming is nigh; and should not grudge against each other, James 5:7-9. They should take encouragement from the example of the prophets, and of Job, James 5:10, James 5:11. Swearing forbidden, James 5:12. Directions to the afflicted, James 5:13-15. They should confess their faults to each other, James 5:16. The great prevalence of prayer instanced in Elijah, James 5:17, James 5:18. The blessedness of converting a sinner from the error of his way, James 5:19, James 5:20.
Go to now - See on James 4:13.
Weep and howl for your miseries - St. James seems to refer here, in the spirit of prophecy, to the destruction that was coming upon the Jews, not only in Judea, but in all the provinces where they sojourned. He seems here to assume the very air and character of a prophet; and in the most dignified language and peculiarly expressive and energetic images, foretells the desolations that were coming upon this bad people.
Your riches are corrupted - Σεσηπε· Are putrefied. The term πλουτος , riches, is to be taken here, not for gold, silver, or precious stones, (for these could not putrefy), but for the produce of the fields and flocks, the different stores of grain, wine, and oil, which they had laid up in their granaries, and the various changes of raiment which they had amassed in their wardrobes.
Your gold and silver is cankered - Instead of helping the poor, and thus honoring God with your substance, ye have, through the principle of covetousness, kept all to yourselves.
The rust of them shall be a witness against you - Your putrefied stores, your moth-eaten garments, and your tarnished coin, are so many proofs that it was not for want of property that you assisted not the poor, but through a principle of avarice; loving money, not for the sake of what it could procure, but for its own sake, which is the genuine principle of the miser. This was the very character given to this people by our Lord himself; he called them φιλαργυροι , lovers of money. Against this despicable and abominable disposition, the whole of the 12th chapter of St. Luke is levelled; but it was their easily besetting sin, and is so to the present day.
Shall eat your flesh as it were fire - This is a very bold and sublime figure. He represents the rust of their coin as becoming a canker that should produce gangrenes and phagedenous ulcers in their flesh, till it should be eaten away from their bones.
Ye have heaped treasure together - This verse is variously pointed. The word ὡς , like as, in the preceding clause, is left out by the Syriac, and some others; and πυρ , fire, is added here from that clause; so that the whole verse reads thus: “Your gold and your silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall consume your flesh. Ye have treasured up Fire against the last days.” This is a bold and fine image: instead of the treasures of corn, wine, and oil, rich stuffs, with silver and gold, which ye have been laying up, ye shall find a treasure, a magazine of fire, that shall burn up your city, and consume even your temple. This was literally true; and these solemn denunciations of Divine wrath were most completely fulfilled. See the notes on Matthew 24 (note), where all the circumstances of this tremendous and final destruction are particularly noted.
The hire of the laborers - The law, Leviticus 19:13, had ordered: The wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning, every day‘s labor being paid for as soon as ended. This is more clearly stated in another law, Deuteronomy 24:15: At his day thou shalt give him his hire; neither shall the sun go down upon it; - lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee. And that God particularly resented this defrauding of the hireling we see from Malachi 3:5: I will come near to you in judgment, and will be a swift witness against those who oppress the hireling in his wages. And on these laws and threatenings is built what we read in Synopsis Sohar, p. 100, l. 45: “When a poor man does any work in a house, the vapor proceeding from him, through the severity of his work, ascends towards heaven. Wo to his employer if he delay to pay him his wages.” To this James seems particularly to allude, when he says: The cries of them who have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of hosts; and the rabbins say, “The vapor arising from the sweat of the hard-worked laborer ascends up before God.” Both images are sufficiently expressive.
The Lord of sabaoth - St. James often conceives in Hebrew though he writes in Greek. It is well known that יהוה צבאות (Yehovah tsebaoth), Lord of hosts, or Lord of armies, is a frequent appellation of God in the Old Testament; and signifies his uncontrollable power, and the infinitely numerous means he has for governing the world, and defending his followers, and punishing the wicked.
Ye have lived in pleasure - Ετρυφησατε . Ye have lived luxuriously; feeding yourselves without fear, pampering the flesh.
And been wanton - Εσπαταλησατε· Ye have lived lasciviously. Ye have indulged all your sinful and sensual appetites to the uttermost; and your lives have been scandalous.
Ye have nourished your hearts - Εθρεψατε· Ye have fattened your hearts, and have rendered them incapable of feeling, as in a day of slaughter, ἡμερᾳ σφαγης , a day of sacrifice, where many victims are offered at once, and where the people feast upon the sacrifices; many, no doubt, turning, on that occasion, a holy ordinance into a riotous festival.
Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you - Several by τον δικαιον , the just one, understand Jesus Christ, who is so called, Acts 3:14; Acts 7:52; Acts 22:14; but the structure of the sentence, and the connection in which it stands, seem to require that we should consider this as applying to the just or righteous in general, who were persecuted and murdered by those oppressive rich men; and their death was the consequence of their dragging them before the judgment seats, James 2:6, where, having no influence, and none to plead their cause, they were unjustly condemned and executed.
Be patient, therefore - Because God is coming to execute judgment on this wicked people, therefore be patient till he comes. He seems here to refer to the coming of the Lord to execute judgment on the Jewish nation, which shortly afterwards took place.
The husbandman waiteth - The seed of your deliverance is already sown, and by and by the harvest of your salvation will take place. God‘s counsels will ripen in due time.
The early and latter rain - The rain of seed time; and the rain of ripening before harvest: the first fell in Judea, about the beginning of November, after the seed was sown; and the second towards the end of April, when the ears were filling, and this prepared for a full harvest. Without these two rains, the earth would have been unfruitful. These God had promised: I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thy oil, Deuteronomy 11:14. But for these they were not only to wait patiently, but also to pray, Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain; so shall the Lord make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field; Zechariah 10:1.
Be ye also patient - Wait for God‘s deliverance, as ye wait for his bounty in providence.
Stablish your hearts - Take courage; do not sink under your trials.
The coming of the Lord draweth nigh - Ηγγικε· Is at hand. He is already on his way to destroy this wicked people, to raze their city and temple, and to destroy their polity for ever; and this judgment will soon take place.
Grudge not - Μη στεναζετε· Groan not; grumble not; do not murmur through impatience; and let not any ill treatment which you receive, induce you to vent your feelings in imprecations against your oppressors. Leave all this in the hands of God.
Lest ye be condemned - By giving way to a spirit of this kind, you will get under the condemnation of the wicked.
The judge standeth before the door - His eye is upon every thing that is wrong in you, and every wrong that is done to you; and he is now entering into judgment with your oppressors.
Take - the prophets - The prophets who had spoken to their forefathers by the authority of God, were persecuted by the very people to whom they delivered the Divine message; but they suffered affliction and persecution with patience, commending their cause to him who judgeth righteously; therefore, imitate their example.
We count them happy which endure - According to that saying of our blessed Lord, Blessed are ye when men shall persecute and revile you - for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. Matthew 5:11, Matthew 5:12, etc.
Ye have heard of the patience of Job - Stripped of all his worldly possessions, deprived at a stroke of all his children, tortured in body with sore disease, tempted by the devil, harassed by his wife, and calumniated by his friends, he nevertheless held fast his integrity, resigned himself to the Divine dispensations, and charged not God foolishly.
And have seen the end of the Lord - The issue to which God brought all his afflictions and trials, giving him children, increasing his property, lengthening out his life, and multiplying to him every kind of spiritual and secular good. This was God‘s end with respect to him; but the devil‘s end was to drive him to despair, and to cause him to blaspheme his Maker. This mention of Job shows him to have been a real person; for a fictitious person would not have been produced as an example of any virtue so highly important as that of patience and perseverance. The end of the Lord is a Hebraism for the issue to which God brings any thing or business.
The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy - Instead of πολυσπλαγχνος , which we translate very pitiful, and which might be rendered of much sympathy, from πολυς , much, and σπλαγχνον , a bowel, (because any thing that affects us with commiseration causes us to feel an indescribable emotion of the bowels), several MSS. have πολυευσπλαγχνος , from παλυς , much, ευ , easily, and σπλαγχνον , a bowel, a word not easy to be translated; but it signifies one whose commiseration is easily excited, and whose commiseration is great or abundant.
Above all things - swear not - What relation this exhortation can have to the subject in question, I confess I cannot see. It may not have been designed to stand in any connection, but to be a separate piece of advice, as in the several cases which immediately follow. That the Jews were notoriously guilty of common swearing is allowed on all hands; and that swearing by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, the temple, the altar, different parts of the body, was not considered by them as binding oaths, has been sufficiently proved. Rabbi Akiba taught that “a man might swear with his lips, and annul it in his heart; and then the oath was not binding.” See the notes on Matthew 5:33, etc., where the subject is considered in great detail.
Let your yea be yea, etc. - Do not pretend to say yea with your lips, and annul it in your heart; let the yea or the nay which you express be bona fide such. Do not imagine that any mental reservation can cancel any such expressions of obligation in the sight of God.
Lest ye fall into condemnation - Ἱνα μη ὑπο κρισιν πεσητε· Lest ye fall under judgment. Several MSS. join ὑπο and κρισιν together, ὑποκρισιν , and prefix εις , into, which makes a widely different reading: Lest ye fall into hypocrisy. Now, as it is a fact, that the Jews did teach that there might be mental reservation, that would annul the oath, how solemnly soever it was taken; the object of St. James, if the last reading be genuine, and it is supported by a great number of excellent MSS., some versions, and some of the most eminent of the fathers, was to guard against that hypocritical method of taking an oath, which is subversive of all moral feeling, and must make conscience itself callous.
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray - The Jews taught that the meaning of the ordinance, Leviticus 13:45, which required the leper to cry, Unclean! unclean! was, “that thus making known his calamity, the people might be led to offer up prayers to God in his behalf,” Sota, page 685, ed. Wagens. They taught also, that when any sickness or affliction entered a family, they should go to the wise men, and implore their prayers. Bava bathra, fol. 116, 1.
Is any merry? let him sing psalms - These are all general but very useful directions. It is natural for a man to sing when he is cheerful and happy. Now no subject can be more noble than that which is Divine: and as God alone is the author of all that good which makes a man happy, then his praise should be the subject of the song of him who is merry. But where persons rejoice in iniquity, and not in the truth, God and sacred things can never be the subject of their song.
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders - This was also a Jewish maxim. Rabbi Simeon, in Sepher Hachaiyim, said: “What should a man do who goes to visit the sick? Ans. He who studies to restore the health of the body, should first lay the foundation in the health of the soul. The wise men have said, No healing is equal to that which comes from the word of God and prayer. Rabbi Phineas, the son of Chamma, hath said, ‹When sickness or disease enters into a man‘s family, let him apply to a wise man, who will implore mercy in his behalf.‘“ See Schoettgen.
Anointing him with oil - That St. James neither means any kind of incantation, any kind of miracle, or such extreme unction as the Romish Church prescribes, will be sufficiently evident from these considerations:
1.Be was a holy man, and could prescribe nothing but what was holy.
2.If a miracle was intended, it could have been as well wrought without the oil, as with it.
1.St. James orders the sick person to be anointed in reference to his cure; but they anoint the sick in the agonies of death, when there is no prospect of his recovery; and never administer that sacrament, as it is called, while there is any hope of life.
And the prayer of faith; shall save the sick - That is, God will often make these the means of a sick man‘s recovery; but there often are cases where faith and prayer are both ineffectual, because God sees it will be prejudicial to the patient‘s salvation to be restored; and therefore all faith and prayer on such occasions should be exerted on this ground: “If it be most for thy glory, and the eternal good of this man‘s soul, let him be restored; if otherwise, Lord, pardon, purify him, and take him to thy glory.”
The Lord shall raise him up - Not the elders, how faithfully and fervently soever they have prayed.
And if he have committed sins - So as to have occasioned his present malady, they shall be forgiven him; for being the cause of the affliction it is natural to conclude that, if the effect be to cease, the cause must be removed. We find that in the miraculous restoration to health, under the powerful hand of Christ, the sin of the party is generally said to be forgiven, and this also before the miracle was wrought on the body: hence there was a maxim among the Jews, and it seems to be founded in common sense and reason, that God never restores a man miraculously to health till he has pardoned his sins; because it would be incongruous for God to exert his miraculous power in saving a body, the soul of which was in a state of condemnation to eternal death, because of the crimes it had committed against its Maker and Judge. Here then it is God that remits the sin, not in reference to the unction, but in reference to the cure of the body, which he is miraculously to effect.
Confess your faults one to another - This is a good general direction to Christians who endeavor to maintain among themselves the communion of saints. This social confession tends much to humble the soul, and to make it watchful. We naturally wish that our friends in general, and our religious friends in particular, should think well of us; and when we confess to them offenses which, without this confession, they could never have known, we feel humbled, are kept from self-applause, and induced to watch unto prayer, that we may not increase our offenses before God, or be obliged any more to undergo the painful humiliation of acknowledging our weakness, fickleness, or infidelity to our religious brethren.
And pray one for another - There is no instance in auricular confession where the penitent and the priest pray together for pardon; but here the people are commanded to pray for each other that they may be healed.
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much - The words δεησις ενεργουμενη signify energetic supplication, or such a prayer as is suggested to the soul and wrought in it by a Divine energy. When God designs to do some particular work in his Church he pours out on his followers the spirit of grace and supplication; and this he does sometimes when he is about to do some especial work for an individual. When such a power of prayer is granted, faith should be immediately called into exercise, that the blessing may be given: the spirit of prayer is the proof that the power of God is present to heal. Long prayers give no particular evidence of Divine inspiration: the following was a maxim among the ancient Jews, שתפלת צדיקים קצדה the prayers of the righteous are short. This is exemplified in almost every instance in the Old Testament.
Elias was a man subject to like passions - This was Elijah, and a consistency between the names of the same persons as expressed in the Old and the New Testaments should be kept up.
And he prayed earnestly - Προσευχῃ προσηυξατο· He prayed with prayer; a Hebraism for, he prayed fervently.
That it might not rain - See this history, 1 Kings 17:1, etc.
And it rained not on the earth - Επι της γης· On that land, viz. the land of Judea; for this drought did not extend elsewhere.
Three years and six months - This is the term mentioned by our Lord, Luke 4:25; but this is not specified in the original history. In 1 Kings 18:1, it is said, In the third year the word of the Lord came to Elijah, that is, concerning the rain; but this third year is to be computed from the time of his going to live at Zarephath, which happened many days after the drought began, as is plain from this, that he remained at the brook Cherith till it was dried up, and then went to Zarephath, in the country of Zidon; 1 Kings 17:7-9. Therefore the three years and six months must be computed from his denouncing the drought, at which time that judgment commenced. Macknight.
And he prayed again - This second prayer is not mentioned in the history in express words, but as in 1 Kings 18:42, it is said, He cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees; that was probably the time of the second praying, namely, that rain might come, as this was the proper posture of prayer.
Err from the truth - Stray away from the Gospel of Christ; and one convert him - reclaim him from his error, and bring him back to the fold of Christ.
Let him know - Let him duly consider, for his encouragement, that he who is the instrument of converting a sinner shall save a soul from eternal death, and a body from ruin, and shall hide a multitude of sins; for in being the means of his conversion we bring him back to God, who, in his infinite mercy, hides or blots out the numerous sins which he had committed during the time of his backsliding. It is not the man‘s sins who is the means of his conversion, but the sins of the backslider, which are here said to be hidden. See more below.
1.Many are of opinion that the hiding a multitude of sins is here to be understood of the person who converts the backslider: this is a dangerous doctrine, and what the Holy Spirit never taught to man. Were this true it would lead many a sinner to endeavor the reformation of his neighbor, that himself might continue under the influence of his own beloved sins and conversion to a particular creed would be put in the place of conversion to God, and thus the substance be lost in the shadow. Bishop Atterbury, (Ser. vol. i. p. 46), and Scott, (Christian Life, vol. i. p. 368), contend “that the covering a multitude of sins includes also, that the pious action of which the apostle speaks engages God to look with greater indulgence on the character of the person that performs it, and to be less severe in marking what he has done amiss.” See Macknight. This from such authorities may be considered doubly dangerous; it argues however great ignorance of God, of the nature of Divine justice, and of the sinfulness of sin. It is besides completely antievangelical; it teaches in effect that something besides the blood of the covenant will render God propitious to man, and that the performance of a pious action will induce God‘s justice to show greater indulgence to the person who performs it, and to be less severe in marking what he has done amiss. On the ground of this doctrine we might confide that, had he a certain quantum of pious acts, we might have all the sins of our lives forgiven, independently of the sacrifice of Christ; for if one pious act can procure pardon for a multitude of sins, what may not be expected from many?
2.The Jewish doctrine, to which it is possible St. James may allude, was certainly more sound than that taught by these Christian divines. They allowed that the man who was the means of converting another had done a work highly pleasing to God, and which should be rewarded; but they never insinuate that this would atone for sin. I shall produce a few examples: -
After the last word of this epistle ἁμαρτιων , of sins, some versions add his, others theirs; and one MS. and the later Syriac have Amen. But these additions are of no authority.
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