Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
James 5:1-20. Woes coming on the wicked rich: Believers should be patient unto the Lord‘s coming: Various exhortations.
Go to now — Come now. A phrase to call solemn attention.
ye rich — who have neglected the true enjoyment of riches, which consists in doing good. James intends this address to rich Jewish unbelievers, not so much for themselves, as for the saints, that they may bear with patience the violence of the rich (James 5:7), knowing that God will speedily avenge them on their oppressors [Bengel].
miseries that shall come — literally, “that are coming upon you” unexpectedly and swiftly, namely, at the coming of the Lord (James 5:7); primarily, at the destruction of Jerusalem; finally, at His visible coming to judge the world.
corrupted — about to be destroyed through God‘s curse on your oppression, whereby your riches are accumulated (James 5:4). Calvin thinks the sense is, Your riches perish without being of any use either to others or even to yourselves, for instance, your garments which are moth-eaten in your chests.
garments moth-eaten — referring to Matthew 6:19, Matthew 6:20.
is cankered — “rusted through” [Alford].
rust witness against you — in the day of judgment; namely, that your riches were of no profit to any, lying unemployed and so contracting rust.
shall eat your flesh — The rust which once ate your riches, shall then gnaw your conscience, accompanied with punishment which shall prey upon your bodies for ever.
as fire — not with the slow process of rusting, but with the swiftness of consuming fire.
for the last days — Ye have heaped together, not treasures as ye suppose (compare Luke 12:19), but wrath against the last days, namely, the coming judgment of the Lord. Alford translates more literally, “In these last days (before the coming judgment) ye laid up (worldly) treasure” to no profit, instead of repenting and seeking salvation (see on James 5:5).
Behold — calling attention to their coming doom as no vain threat.
labourers — literally “workmen.”
of you kept back — So English Version rightly. Not as Alford, “crieth out from you.” The “keeping back of the hire” was, on the part OF the rich, virtually an act of “fraud,” because the poor laborers were not immediately paid. The phrase is therefore not, “kept back by you,” but “of you”; the latter implying virtual, rather than overt, fraud. James refers to Deuteronomy 24:14, Deuteronomy 24:15, “At this day give his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it, lest he CRY against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee.” Many sins “cry” to heaven for vengeance which men tacitly take no account of, as unchastity and injustice [Bengel]. Sins peculiarly offensive to God are said to “cry” to Him. The rich ought to have given freely to the poor; their not doing so was sin. A still greater sin was their not paying their debts. Their greatest sin was not paying them to the poor, whose wages is their all.
cries of them — a double cry; both that of the hire abstractly, and that of the laborers hired.
the Lord of sabaoth — here only in the New Testament. In Romans 9:29 it is a quotation. It is suited to the Jewish tone of the Epistle. It reminds the rich who think the poor have no protector, that the Lord of the whole hosts in heaven and earth is the guardian and avenger of the latter. He is identical with the “coming Lord” Jesus (James 5:7).
and wantoned.” The former expresses luxurious effeminacy; the latter, wantonness and prodigality. Their luxury was at the expense of the defrauded poor (James 5:4).
on the earth — The same earth which has been the scene of your wantonness, shall be the scene of the judgment coming on you: instead of earthly delights ye shall have punishments.
nourished hearts — that is glutted your bodies like beasts to the full extent of your hearts‘ desire; ye live to eat, not eat to live.
as in a day of slaughter — The oldest authorities omit “as.” Ye are like beasts which eat to their hearts‘ content on the very day of their approaching slaughter, unconscious it is near. The phrase answers to “the last days,” James 5:3, which favors Alford‘s translation there, “in,” not “for.”
the just — The Greek aorist expresses, “Ye are accustomed to condemn the just.” Their condemnation of Christ, “the Just,” is foremost in James‘ mind. But all the innocent blood shed, and to be shed, is included, the Holy Spirit comprehending James himself, called “the Just,” who was slain in a tumult. See my Introduction. This gives a peculiar appropriateness to the expression in this verse, the same “as the righteous (just) man” (James 5:16). The justice or righteousness of Jesus and His people is what peculiarly provoked the ungodly great men of the world.
he doth not resist you — The very patience of the Just one is abused by the wicked as an incentive to boldness in violent persecution, as if they may do as they please with impunity. God doth “resist the proud” (James 4:6); but Jesus as man, “as a sheep is dumb before the shearers, so He opened not His mouth”: so His people are meek under persecution. The day will come when God will resist (literally, “set Himself in array against”) His foes and theirs.
Be patient therefore — as judgment is so near (James 5:1, James 5:3), ye may well afford to be “patient” after the example of the unresisting Just one (James 5:6).
brethren — contrasted with the “rich” oppressors, James 5:1-6.
unto the coming of the Lord — Christ, when the trial of your patience shall cease.
husbandman waiteth for — that is, patiently bears toils and delays through hope of the harvest at last. Its “preciousness” (compare Psalm 126:6, “precious seed”) will more than compensate for all the past. Compare the same image, Galatians 6:3, Galatians 6:9.
hath long patience for it — “over it,” in respect to it.
until he receive — “until it receive” [Alford]. Even if English Version be retained, the receiving of the early and latter rains is not to be understood as the object of his hope, but the harvest for which those rains are the necessary preliminary. The early rain fell at sowing time, about November or December; the latter rain, about March or April, to mature the grain for harvest. The latter rain that shall precede the coming spiritual harvest, will probably be another Pentecost-like effusion of the Holy Ghost.
draweth nigh — The Greek expresses present time and a settled state. 1 Peter 4:7, “is at hand.” We are to live in a continued state of expectancy of the Lord‘s coming, as an event always nigh. Nothing can more “stablish the heart” amidst present troubles than the realized expectation of His speedy coming.
Grudge not — rather “Murmur not”; “grumble not.” The Greek is literally, “groan”: a half-suppressed murmur of impatience and harsh judgment, not uttered aloud or freely. Having exhorted them to patience in bearing wrongs from the wicked, he now exhorts them to a forbearing spirit as to the offenses given by brethren. Christians, who bear the former patiently, sometimes are impatient at the latter, though much less grievous.
lest condemned — The best manuscript authorities read, “judged.” James refers to Matthew 7:1, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” To “murmur against one another” is virtually to judge, and so to become liable to be judged.
judge before the door — referring to Matthew 24:33. The Greek is the same in both passages, and so ought to be translated here as there, “doors,” plural. The phrase means “near at hand” (Genesis 4:7), which in the oldest interpretations [Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem] is explained, “thy sin is reserved unto the judgment of the world to come.” Compare “the everlasting doors” (Psalm 24:7, whence He shall come forth). The Lord‘s coming to destroy Jerusalem is primarily referred to; and ultimately, His coming again visibly to judgment.
the prophets — who were especially persecuted, and therefore were especially “blessed.”
example of suffering affliction — rather, simply, “of affliction,” literally, “evil treatment.”
count them happy — (Matthew 5:10).
which endure — The oldest authorities read, “which have endured,” which suits the sense better than English Version: “Those who in past days, like the prophets and Job, have endured trials.” Such, not those who “have lived in pleasure and been wanton on the earth” (James 5:5), are “happy.”
patience — rather, “endurance,” answering to “endure”: the Greek words similarly corresponding. Distinct from the Greek word for “patience” James 5:10. The same word ought to be translated, “endurance,” James 1:3. He here reverts to the subject which he began with.
Job — This passage shows the history of him is concerning a real, not an imaginary person; otherwise his case could not be quoted as an example at all. Though he showed much of impatience, yet he always returned to this, that he committed himself wholly to God, and at last showed a perfect spirit of enduring submission.
and have seen — (with the eyes of your mind). Alford translates from the old and genuine reading, “see also,” etc. The old reading is, however, capable of being translated as English Version.
the end of the Lord — the end which the Lord gave. If Job had much to “endure,” remember also Job‘s happy “end.” Hence, learn, though much tried, to “endure to the end.”
that — Alford and others translate, “inasmuch as,” “for.”
pitiful of tender mercy — The former refers to the “feeling”; the latter, to the act. His pity is shown in not laying on the patient endurer more trials than he is able to bear; His mercy, in His giving a happy “end” to the trials [Bengel].
But above all — as swearing is utterly alien to the Christian meek “endurance” just recommended.
swear not — through impatience, to which trials may tempt you (James 5:10, James 5:11). In contrast to this stands the proper use of the tongue, James 5:13. James here refers to Matthew 5:34, etc.
let your yea be yea — Do not use oaths in your everyday conversation, but let a simple affirmative or denial be deemed enough to establish your word.
condemnation — literally, “judgment,” namely, of “the Judge” who “standeth before the doors” (James 5:9).
afflicted — referring to the “suffering affliction” (James 5:10).
let him pray — not “swear” in rash impatience.
merry — joyous in mind.
sing psalms — of praise. Paul and Silas sang psalms even in affliction.
let him call for the elders — not some one of the elders, as Roman Catholics interpret it, to justify their usage in extreme unction. The prayers of the elders over the sick would be much the same as though the whole Church which they represent should pray [Bengel].
anointing him with oil — The usage which Christ committed to His apostles was afterwards continued with laying on of hands, as a token of the highest faculty of medicine in the Church, just as we find in 1 Corinthians 6:2 the Church‘s highest judicial function. Now that the miraculous gift of healing has been withdrawn for the most part, to use the sign where the reality is wanting would be unmeaning superstition. Compare other apostolic usages now discontinued rightly, 1 Corinthians 11:4-15; 1 Corinthians 16:20. “Let them use oil who can by their prayers obtain recovery for the sick: let those who cannot do this, abstain from using the empty sign” [Whitaker]. Romish extreme unction is administered to those whose life is despaired of, to heal the soul, whereas James‘ unction was to heal the body. Cardinal Cajetan [Commentary] admits that James cannot refer to extreme unction. Oil in the East, and especially among the Jews (see the Talmud, Jerusalem and Babylon), was much used as a curative agent. It was also a sign of the divine grace. Hence it was an appropriate sign in performing miraculous cures.
in the name of the Lord — by whom alone the miracle was performed: men were but the instruments.
prayer — He does not say the oil shall save: it is but the symbol.
save — plainly not as Rome says, “save” the soul. but heal “the sick”: as the words, “the Lord shall raise him up,” prove. So the same Greek is translated, “made (thee) whole,” Matthew 9:21, Matthew 9:22.
and if sins — for not all who are sick are so because of some special sins. Here a case is supposed of one visited with sickness for special sins.
have committed — literally, “be in a state of having committed sins,” that is, be under the consequences of sins committed.
they — rather, “it”: his having committed sins shall be forgiven him. The connection of sin and sickness is implied in Isaiah 33:24; Matthew 9:2-5; John 5:14. The absolution of the sick, retained in the Church of England, refers to the sins which the sick man confesses (James 5:16) and repents of, whereby outward scandal has been given to the Church and the cause of religion; not to sins in their relation to God, the only Judge.
The oldest authorities read, “Confess, THEREFORE,” etc. Not only in the particular case of sickness, but universally confess.
faults — your falls and offenses, in relation to one another. The word is not the same as sins. Matthew 5:23, Matthew 5:24; Luke 17:4, illustrate the precept here.
one to another — not to the priest, as Rome insists. The Church of England recommends in certain cases. Rome compels confession in all cases. Confession is desirable in the case of (1) wrong done to a neighbor; (2) when under a troubled conscience we ask counsel of a godly minister or friend as to how we may obtain God‘s forgiveness and strength to sin no more, or when we desire their intercessory prayers for us (“Pray for one another”): “Confession may be made to anyone who can pray” [Bengel]; (3) open confession of sin before the Church and the world, in token of penitence. Not auricular confession.
that ye may be healed — of your bodily sicknesses. Also that, if your sickness be the punishment of sin, the latter being forgiven on intercessory prayer, “ye may be healed” of the former. Also, that ye may be healed spiritually.
effectual — intense and fervent, not “wavering” (James 1:6), [Beza]. “When energized” by the Spirit, as those were who performed miracles [Hammond]. This suits the collocation of the Greek words and the sense well. A righteous man‘s prayer is always heard generally, but his particular request for the healing of another was then likely to be granted when he was one possessing a special charism of the Spirit. Alford translates, “Availeth much in its working.” The “righteous” is one himself careful to avoid “faults,” and showing his faith by works (James 2:24).
like passions as we — therefore it cannot be said that he was so raised above us as to afford no example applicable to common mortals like ourselves.
prayed earnestly — literally, “prayed with prayer”: Hebraism for prayed intensely. Compare Luke 22:15, “With desire I have desired,” that is, earnestly desired. Alford is wrong in saying, Elias‘ prayer that it might not rain “is not even hinted at in the Old Testament history.” In 1 Kings 17:1 it is plainly implied, “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” His prophecy of the fact was according to a divine intimation given to him in answer to prayer. In jealousy for God‘s honor (1 Kings 19:10), and being of one mind with God in his abhorrence of apostasy, he prayed that the national idolatry should be punished with a national judgment, drought; and on Israel‘s profession of repentance he prayed for the removal of the visitation, as is implied in 1 Kings 18:39-42; compare Luke 4:25.
three years, etc. — Compare 1 Kings 18:1, “The third year,” namely, from Elijah‘s going to Zarephath; the prophecy (James 5:1) was probably about five or six months previously.
prayed and — that is, “and so.” Mark the connection between the prayer and its accomplishment.
her fruit — her usual and due fruit, heretofore withheld on account of sin. Three and a half years is the time also that the two witnesses prophesy who “have power to shut and open heaven that it rain not.”
The blessing of reclaiming an erring sinner by the mutual consent and intercessory prayer just recommended.
do err — more literally, “be led astray.”
the truth — the Gospel doctrine and precepts.
one — literally, “any”; as “any” before. Everyone ought to seek the salvation of everyone [Bengel].
Let him — the converted.
know — for his comfort, and the encouragement of others to do likewise.
shall save — future. The salvation of the one so converted shall be manifested hereafter.
shall hide a multitude of sins — not his own, but the sins of the converted. The Greek verb in the middle voice requires this. Proverbs 10:12 refers to charity “covering” the sins of others before men; James to one‘s effecting by the conversion of another that that other‘s sins be covered before God, namely, with Christ‘s atonement. He effects this by making the convert partaker in the Christian covenant for the remission of all sins. Though this hiding of sins was included in the previous “shall save,” James expresses it to mark in detail the greatness of the blessing conferred on the penitent through the converter‘s instrumentality, and to incite others to the same good deed.
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