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Bible Commentaries
James 1

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

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Verses 1-27



James 1:1-27.

The salutation, from whom to whom, James 1:1.

The body, or matter, of the letter:

I. Concerning trials from without. God himself chastens his children in love, and often permits Satan and evil men to afflict them in malice as a test of faith and as a discipline, therefore –

1. Count them for a joy through discipline (James 1:2-4). (Compare with the case of Job, who did not know how nor from whom to count them, and with the case of Paul, who did know.)

2. If you need wisdom in order to do this – ask God for it (James 1:5-8). (Compare the case of Solomon, I Kings 3:5-13; and 4:29-34.)

3. But ask in faith (James 1:6). (Compare the Lord’s teaching in Mark 5:36; Mark 9:23-24; and Paul’s, Romans 4:18-21; and Hebrews 11:6.)

4. Having regard to other laws or conditions of acceptable prayer (James 4:3).

5. For there are two kinds of wisdom, unlike in origin, nature and result (James 3:13-18). (Compare Genesis 3:6; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Galatians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 1:18-22.) (Compare the Greek legend of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, springing full grown from the brain of Jupiter, with Milton’s representation of Sin, in the form of a beautiful woman, coming from the brain of Satan – Paradise Lost, Book II.)

6. How the foregoing directions may be made to apply impartially to both rich and poor brethren (James 1:9-11).

II. Concerning temptations from within (James 1:13-17).

Note how the same word in one connection means a trial, in another connection means an incitement to evil.

1. Incitement to evil not from God (James 1:13-17).

(1) Because opposed to his nature (James 1:13; James 1:17-27). He is the Father of lights. He is unchangeable. He willeth our regeneration. (Compare 1 Timothy 2:4 and Ezekiel 33:11.)

(See the author’s sermon on "God and the Sinner.")

(2) Because opposed to his practice of giving good things only (James 1:17).

2. Incitement to evil from the devil (James 4:7). (Compare Genesis 3:1-5; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Galatians 3:1; 1 John 3:8-12.)

3. The commission of sin man’s own act (James 1:14). This appears from the analysis of sin (James 1:14-15.) The complete order is:

(1) Incitement by Satan. (2) Desire. (3) Will to gratify it. (4) The deed. (5) Death. (6) Hell. (Compare the genesis and development of the first human sin, Genesis 3:1-8; and the case of Achan, Joshua 7:20-21. See the relations of Satan, Sin, Death, and Hell) and Dogs or Remorse in Paradise Lost, Book II, lines 648-814.)

III. Concerning the word of God.

1. Its offices:

(a) The means of regeneration (James 1:18).

(b) The mirror for disclosing imperfections (James 1:23).

(c) The perfect law of liberty (James 1:25).

2. How communicated in effecting regeneration (James 1:21).

Note the implanting of a seed, and compare the parable of the sower, the seed, and the four kinds of soil, Matthew 13:4-9; Matthew 13:18-23; with Jeremiah 4:3. See also 1 Peter 1:23.

3. How received when so communicated (James 1:21).

4. How treated when received:

(1) Forsake the evil it condemns (James 1:21).

(2) Do the good it enjoins (James 1:22).

(Compare Isaiah 1:16-17; Isaiah 55:7; Matthew 7:24-27. See also John 14:15; John 15:14; Acts 2:37; Acts 16:30-31; Acts 22:10; with Acts 26:19.)


The Mirror. – Let the reader explain the mirror illustration, showing how and why the word of God is so used.

The case of Mr. Moody, his dirty boy and the mirror, showing the mirror’s use, not for washing, but to disclose dirt, or imperfection, and by thus convincing the one looking in it of the need of cleansing. Let the reader compare the mirror illustration of James with Paul’s mirror illustration (2 Corinthians 3:18) and point out clearly the distinctions. Illustrate Paul’s use by the Peruvian Temple of the Sun in Cuzco. Read Keeble’s poem on Paul’s illustration.

The Law of Liberty. – Let the reader fix clearly and firmly in his mind the New Testament idea of liberty, who is the liberator, what the bondage from which he delivers, how the word of God operates in securing the liberty, and why it is a perfect law of liberty. To this end see the discussion in John 8:31-36; Galatians 4:21-31; Galatians 5:1; Romans 6:14-20.

Compare Ingersoll’s lecture on "Liberty for Man, Woman, and Child," delivered in Waco, with the author’s reply thereto. Read Bishop Soule’s sermon on "Perfect Law of Liberty," in Methodist Pupil of the South, and mark the points from which you dissent, if there be any.

IV. A definition of practical religion.

1. Negative, i.e., vain religion (James 1:26).

(1) Deception of heart

(2) Unbridled tongue

2. Positive, i.e., pure and undefiled (James 1:27).

(1) Keeping oneself unspotted from the world

(2) Visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction

Note all the New Testament uses of the words here rendered "religion," "religious."

Derivation of the English word.

Read F. W. Robertson’s sermon (in Vol. Ill) showing the mission of James to teach the moral rectitude side of the gospel rather than dogma.

V. Concerning faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

1. It must be held without respect of persons (James 2:1-7), i.e., the conduct of one believer in Jesus toward another believer in Jesus must have regard only to the claims of a common humanity and of a common salvation, disregarding distinctions based on race, nationality, tribe, caste, sex, titles, honors, social position, wealth, or poverty. (Compare Deuteronomy 1:7; Luke 18:42-43; Luke 22:24-27; Acts 10:34; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:10-11.)

2. It must fulfil the royal law (James 2:8).

3. It must be held without respect of commandments (James 2:9-12).

Note the unity, or solidarity, of the law. Illustrate it. Who wrote the following couplet? Compound for sins they are inclined to, By damning those they have no mind to?

What the legend of Jupiter and the two bags?

4. It must be evidenced by good works (James 2:14-20). Case of Abraham (James 2:21-24). Case of Rahab (James 2:25). Questions:

(1) What said Luther of this letter, and why?

(2) And yet what says Luther about faith and works in his preface to the epistle to the Romans?

(3) In what sense do works justify?

(4) Meaning of "perfect" in James 2:22?

(5) What says Paul of the relations between grace and faith on the one hand, and good works on the other hand? (See Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 2:11-15; Titus 3:4-8.)

(6) What the theory of Dr. J. B. Link, editor Texas Baptist Herald?

(7) Why was Rahab’s case selected by James, and in Hebrews 11:31?

VI. Concerning teachers (James 3:1-18).

1. A caution against many teachers (James 3:1).

2. The teacher must bridle his tongue, because:

(1) This makes the perfect man. Note the relative power of the tongue (James 3:2-4). Note the illustrations – the bridle, the helm, the forest fire.

(2) Because the devil’s tongues of fire are contrasted with the Spirit’s tongues of fire at Pentecost (James 3:6-12). These tongues are restless, untamable, forked, full of deadly poison, worlds of iniquity, set on fire of hell, setting on fire the whole course of nature.

(3) The teacher must seek the true wisdom, because there is another wisdom earthly, sensual, demoniacal.

Note: – The tongue has slain more than the sword, and has burned up more homes and cities than all the incendiaries in the annals of time.

VII. General applications and exhortations

1. Inordinate lusts originate strife and nullify prayer (James 4:1-3).

2. The spirit of divine love within us is jealous against the world love tempting us (James 4:4-6).

3. The great direction (James 4:7-10).

4. Censoriousness libels laws and usurps the divine prerogative of judgment (James 4:11-12).

5. The twelve tribes are dispersed by the lust of commerce, which presumes on the future and ignores the divine will (James 4:13-17).

6. The follies and ’iniquities of the rich (James 5:1-6).

7. The coming of the Lord teaches patience (James 5:7-8).

8. The outlet for great emotions (James 5:9-13).

(1) Not murmuring

(2) Not swearing

(3) But prayer or praise; the case of Job

9. Directions for the sick (James 5:14-18).

(1) Send for the elders of the church

Query: Who are they?

(2) Anoint the patient with oil

Why? Is this direction binding now? Is this the Romanist extreme unction?

(3) The promise

(4) Confession of sin

Query: Is this the Romanist auricular confession?

(5) Elijah’s case the example of prayer

Query: Is it right now to pray for rain?

10. Conversion of a sinner (James 5:19-20).

Query: Meaning of "shall cover a multitude of sins"?

We shall now give the main points in the analysis of chapter I, as follows:

(1) Salutation – from whom to whom (James 1:1).

(2) Trials from without and how to receive them (James 1:2-13).

(3) Trials from within – their origin, development, and termination (James 1:13-17).

(4) The Word of God – its nature, its offices, and how to treat it (James 1:18-25).

(5) Seeming and Real Religion (James 1:26-27).

I will now commence the exegesis according to that analysis. I would not, for worlds, have this letter of James left out, and if when we get through, the reader does not see that it is a great letter and of inestimable value, then I shall question his judgment.

First the salutation, James 1:1: "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are of the dispersion, greeting." We have, in an introductory chapter, specified what James this was. We see that he counts himself God’s servant, and the servant of Jesus. Considering that all during the life of Christ he did not believe in his brother, and that he was converted only at the resurrection of Christ, it is astonishing in this book to see how complete is his faith in Jesus as the Messiah: "The Lord Jesus, the Christ." Those to whom he writes, the twelve tribes of the dispersion, we have just considered.

We now take up trials from without, and how they are to be received. "Count it all Joy, my brethren, when you fall into manifold temptations." Pretty hard thing to do, isn’t it? Job had a hard time counting his trials joy, and we notice in Paul’s case it makes him shouting happy because God counted him worthy to suffer for the Lord Jesus Christ. But we have to have religion to do that. "Count it all joy." Why should it be? "Because the trying of your faith worketh patience." "Tribulation," says Peter, "worketh patience."

A most charming lady, a member of my church in Waco, and one of the sweetest spirits that I ever knew, came to me one day and said:

"I just pray and pray for patience, and about the time I think I am patient, here comes some new trouble. Tell me about it."

"Why," I said, "that is the mill that grinds patience, viz.: tribulation, and so if you really want to be patient, then you must count these tribulations that come on you, joy, for they will bring you the patience, if you are rightly exercised by them. And in order to profit by it, let patience have her perfect work, that you may be patient and endure, wanting nothing."

The word, "perfect," does not mean sinless in the New Testament at any time. It means mature. Perfection means maturity. Just here the trouble comes up with any of us when subject to these trials from without – we are not wise enough to know how to receive them. Hence, the next direction, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him." He knows that a lack of wisdom oftentimes causes us to fail.

The case of Solomon is in point. He was a young man when he was made successor to his father, and while he was offering sacrifices in the tabernacle, God came to him in a dream at night and said (how would you, dear reader, like to be approached by day or night and have God pressing this question on you?), "What do you want? Make a selection. I will give it to you." Solomon says, "Lord, give me wisdom. I am a little child, and I do not know how to go out or to come in, and you have put me at the head of a great people, and I have to discharge my duty. I must have wisdom." God was so pleased that he not only gave him wisdom, but riches and honor, and many other blessings.

How different would be the answer of most people to that question. Perhaps one would say, "I want a spring bonnet. That is the thing that is standing between me and happiness." Another would say, "I want to feel my fingers in the neck of my enemy." What a tremendous thing is that wisdom! I do not mean knowledge. There is much difference between wisdom and knowledge. The wisest man is not the man that knows. Wisdom is the application of knowledge. To know just what to do, to know just how to do it, and to know how to do it at the right time – that is wisdom. It is a rare gift or qualification.

I heard an old Baptist deacon say, "Our pastor, if we ever get him up in the pulpit, is not only a Boanerges, a son of thunder, but he is a Barnabas, a son of consolation, but just as soon as he steps down out of the pulpit, he has not sense enough to lead a goose to water. He needs a guardian." And the old deacon told the truth. He was called "the Spurgeon of Texas," and he was called also the "inspired idiot." Out of the pulpit an idiot, and in the pulpit a flame of fire. He was a schoolmate of mine.

Most of the trouble that comes upon churches comes from a lack of wisdom on the part of the pastor. They do not know how to handle with the proper delicacy cases of discipline. Without ever understanding it, a great many pastors make themselves the occasion of a split in a church) of endless strife and confusion. We can get wisdom in no other way than by asking for it. One says, "I asked for it, but did not get it." Let me give the next verse. "But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting, for he that doubteth is like-the surge of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord; a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." Ask in faith: "Whatsoever ye ask in my name, according to the law of God, and believe, ye shall receive."

The most of us are like the old woman, who read where it says, "If you have faith equal to a grain of mustard seed you could say to the mountain, be moved into the sea, and it would be moved." So she concluded she would try it, and she prayed that a certain mountain might be moved into the sea. The next morning she says, "There it is. I knew it was going to be there. It is Just as I expected." This is the way of our faith in praying.

These trials from without come upon rich and poor alike. The rich in the trial finds that his wealth has taken to itself wings and flown away, and he is brought down to a low estate. They have their trials. The poor man also has his. They are not the same in all cases, but there is no road from here to heaven that does not pass through tribulations. A man that properly endures trials that come upon him from without has this glorious incentive, that when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to them that love him. In the letters of Peter we find out how he treats the same subject.

We now come to the trials from within: "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man: but each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust." We have the responsibility of that inward sin, and we must not put it on God. God never enticed anybody to do evil. The food. She desired; she was enticed by her desire. Achan, not enticement must come from our own desire. Eve looked upon the fruit of the tree of death, and it seemed to her good for withstanding the prohibition of God about the spoils of Jericho that were devoted, consecrated to God, saw the goodly Babylonish garment, and a wedge of gold, and he wanted them. Now, it isn’t worth while for Achan to say, "God put me in a position to see that." The origin of our desires cannot be put on the shoulders of some one else.

Here is the finest analysis of the inside sin, its development and its termination, that I know of anywhere: "Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death." Desire; sin, death! We will have occasion more than once to call attention to James’s power to analyze a fact, to show its development, its culmination, and its fruit. In James 1:17 he shows why that this enticement to sin does not come from God: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning." That is what comes from God. If it is a good gift, a perfect gift, it comes from above; it comes from the Father of lights, it comes from that God with whom is no variableness or even shadow of turning. Apply what James says as to how to treat trials that come from the inside. That is the secret of life. This is an intensely practical writer, and if one cannot apply what he says, then he will go through life soured, unhappy, unprofitable.

Let us look at his great discussion on the word of God (James 1:18-25). The analysis says, "The word of God, its nature, its offices, and how to treat it." It is a seed, an implanted seed: "Receive with meekness the implanted word." The word is "planted" – "the implanted word of God." And how often do we find that the word of God is treated as a seed! "The sower went forth to sow," the parable of tares, the parable of the seed that groweth by itself, and then in the Psalms, "He that soweth in tears shall reap in joy," and "he that goeth forth weeping bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." And the passage in Peter, "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God that liveth and abideth forever."

If the word of God as to its nature is an implanted seed, then what are its offices? First, it is an instrument of regeneration. The record says, "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth." How is regeneration to be brought about? By preaching the word. The sower goes out and sows the word – the seed, which is implanted, and becomes the instrument of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. What is the second office of this word? That is expressed in verse James 1:25: "But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth, but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing." There the word of God is called the law of liberty, that is to say, "Whoever takes the word of God reaches real liberty."

Ingersoll came to Waco when I was pastor there, and delivered his notorious lecture on "Liberty for Men, Women, and Children," and I replied to it from the pulpit: "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed," and showed what was real liberty and how this liberty is to be found.

The word of God brings liberty; to deliver from the bondage of sin, the bondage of Satan; it translates us into the kingdom of God. We can get these three lessons: (1) It is the instrument of regeneration. (2) It is a mirror for revealing sin. (3) It is the perfect law of liberty.

I heard Dr. Richard Burleson preach a great sermon on "How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word." That is ’in Psalm 119. Every verse of it has reference to the word of God. The young man in his ways is inclined to be a slave. How shall he be free? "How shall be cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word." "The entrance of thy word giveth light." Whosoever liveth in darkness and dark places is in slavery. There must be light in order to be free.

One of the most famous Irish orators in an address pictured Ireland as a woman in shamrock and bound, and then pleaded for the liberty of Ireland, and as he held up his hands he said, "There shall come a day in the providence of God when Erin, poor Erin, shall be redeemed and regenerated and disenthralled forever." If it ever comes it shall be by the Irish people’s taking greater heed to the Word of God. This is the way to get that kind of liberty.

Let us now review a little. This letter was written by James, the half-brother of our Lord, the son of Joseph and Mary. It was written from Jerusalem. It was written about A.D. 45. It was written to the dispersed Jews that had become Christians. In the analysis of this letter there was presented: First, what James had to say concerning trials from without; that God himself chasteneth his people for their discipline, and permits the devil and evil men to persecute them in malice. He then tells them how to receive these trials; to count them a joy through discipline, and if they need wisdom, to ask God for it. But they must ask in faith, and they must have regard to the other laws of God. For instance, a man may ask and not receive because his object is to use what he asks for his own pleasure. The direction to go to God for this wisdom arises from the fact that there are two kinds of wisdom, one from above, first pure and then peaceable, and bringing forth the fruits of righteousness; the other earthly, sensual, devilish; that does not come from God. He then shows that these directions apply just as much to the rich man as to the poor man. His first point is that. Still speaking in review, he then takes up the same word, "temptation," but uses it in another sense. And concerning these temptations from within he shows that God is not the author of them – that God never entices any man to evil. He cannot do it on account of his nature, and he gives only good things and never evil things; that this enticement to evil may indeed come from the devil or from some other man, but when the sin is committed by the man the responsibility rests upon him. It is his act, no matter who entices – man or devil. This appears from the analysis of sin which he gives, that every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desire, and that desire when it has conceived bringeth forth sin and sin when it is full grown bringeth forth death. One of the finest points in the epistle is the fixing of the responsibility of the commission of sin upon man.

The next subject that he discusses is the Word of God, in its nature, as a seed implanted. In this letter James gives the offices of the Word of God. In its first office, it is a means of regeneration – "Begotten by the word." In its second office, it serves as a mirror. A man looking into a mirror discovers his own imperfections. The mirror faithfully presents himself to himself, just as he is. The Word of God is to be used as a mirror. Paul also uses the mirror illustration in another sense. Where and what?

In the next office of the Word, it is the perfect law of liberty, that is, it is the means through which, when properly observed, the slave to sin becomes a freeman to Jesus Christ. That perfect law of liberty is a great pulpit theme. There is a sermon on "The Perfect Law of Liberty" by a leading Methodist, Joshua Soule, who was bishop in the South when the division took place between the North and the South. It may be found in a book, The Methodist Pulpit of the South, and it will jostle a young preacher to read it. No Baptist will accept all of it, but it is intensely interesting.

The Word of God is the means of regeneration, a mirror for convicting of sin and the perfect law of liberty. James then tells how this Word is communicated, and in that way he brings out its nature as of a seed implanted: "Receive ye the implanted word of God." And then he asks how it is to be treated when it is received. Then he answers, "Forsake the evil which it condemns and do the good which it enjoins." Then he gives a loose, but very practical definition of practical religion in four strokes, two of them negatives: "If any man thinketh himself to be religious, while he bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his heart, this man’s religion is vain." And then defines pure and undefiled religion with two strokes: He must keep himself unspotted from the world; he must visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction. The reader will notice the ethical use of the phrase, "Pure and undefiled religion." Look up the etymological definition of religion. How is the word derived? It is a big word over the world. Here we recall the song: “Tis religion that can give sweetest pleasures while we live; "Tis religion must supply solid comfort when we die.


1. Give the main points in the analysis of James 1.

2. How does James characterize himself in the salutation?

3. What is in this book about James that is astonishing?

4. How are trials from without to be received, and why? Illustrate by Job and Paul.

5. What illustration from the author’s life?

6. What is the meaning of the word "perfect" in the New Testament?

7. Why the direction just here concerning wisdom?

8. Illustrate by the life of Solomon.

9. What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?

10. What is the point of the case of the "inspired idiot"?

11. How obtain wisdom, and what the one essential in obtaining it? Compare our Lord’s and Paul’s teaching on this point.

12. What the two kinds of wisdom, and what the characteristics of each? Compare the Greek legend of Minerva and Milton’s representation of sin.

13. What incentive to endure trials?

14. How may the foregoing directions be applied to rich and poor?

15. Whence come trials from within?

16. Why does not this enticement to sin come from God? From whom does it come, and what the proof?

17. What examples in the letter, of James’s power of analysis in tracing things to their fountain head.

18. What the complete order of his analysis of sin? Compare the cases of Eve and Achan, and also Milton’s description of the relation of Satan, Sin, and Death.

19. What is the Word of God as to its nature?

20. What are its offices according to James?

21. Compare James’s use of the word "mirror" with Paul’s, and illustrate each.

22. What the New Testament idea of liberty, who the liberator, what the bondage from which delivered, how does the Word of God operate in securing liberty, and what the perfect law of liberty? Compare Ingersoll’s lecture on it.

23. What is one of the finest points of this letter?

24. In four strokes give James’ practical definition of religion.

25. What is the etymological definition of religion?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on James 1". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/james-1.html.
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