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This chapter seems to comprise two general classes of subjects; the statement in regard to the first of which is complete, but the second is only commenced in this chapter, and is continued in the second. The first is the general subject of temptation and trial James 1:1-15; the second is the nature of true religion: the statement that all true religion has its origin in God, the source of purity and truth, and that it requires us to be docile and meek; to be doers of the word; to bridle the tongue, and to be the friends of the fatherless and the widow, James 1:16-27.
I. The general subject of temptation or trial, James 1:1-15. It is evident that those to whom the Epistle was directed were, at that time, suffering in some form, or that they were called to pass through temptations, and that they needed counsel and support. They were in danger of sinking in despondency; of murmuring and complaining, and of charging God as the author of temptation and of sin. This part of the chapter comprises the following topics:
1. The salutation, James 1:1.
2. The subject of temptations or trials. They were to regard it, not as a subject of sorrow, but of gladness and joy, that they were called to pass through trials; for if borne in a proper manner, they would produce the grace of patience, and this was to be regarded as an object worth being secured, even by much suffering, James 1:2-4.
3. If in their trials they felt that they had lacked the wisdom which they needed to enable them to bear them in a proper manner, they had the privilege of looking to God, and seeking it at his hand. This was a privilege conceded to all, and if it were asked in faith, without any wavering, it would certainly be granted, James 1:5-7.
4. The importance and value of stability, especially in trials; of being firm in principle, and of having one single great aim in life. A man who wavered in his faith would waver in everything, James 1:8.
5. An encouragement to those who, in the trials which they experienced, passed through rapid changes of circumstances. Whatever those changes were, they were to rejoice in them as ordered by the Lord. They were to remember the essential instability of all earthly things. The rich especially, who were most disposed to murmur and complain when their circumstances were changed, were to remember how the burning heat blasts the beauty of the flower, and that in like manner all worldly splendor must fade away, James 1:9-11.
6. Every person is blessed who endures trials in a proper manner, for such an endurance of trial will be connected with a rich reward - the crown of life, James 1:12.
7. In their trials, however, in the allurements to sin which might be set before them; in the temptations to apostatize, or to do anything wrong, which might be connected with their suffering condition, they were to be careful never to charge temptation as such on God. They were never to allow their minds to feel for a moment that he allured them to sin, or placed an inducement of any kind before them to do wrong. Everything of that kind, every disposition to commit sin, originated in their own hearts, and they should never allow themselves to charge it on God, James 1:13-15.
II. The nature of true religion, James 1:16-27.
- It has its origin in God, the source of every good gift, the Father of lights, who has of his own will begotten us again, that he might raise us to an exalted rank among his creatures. God, therefore, should be regarded not as the author of sin, but as the source of all the good that is in us, James 1:16-18.
- Religion requires us to be meek and docile; to lay aside all disposition to dictate or prescribe, all irritability against the truth, and all corruption of heart, and to receive meekly the ingrafted word, James 1:19-21.
- Religion requires us to be doers of the word, and not hearers only, James 1:23-25.
- Religion requires us to bridle the tongue, to set a special guard on our words, James 1:26.
- Religion requires us to be the friends of the fatherless and the widow, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, James 1:27.
James, a servant of God - On the meaning of the word “servant” in this connection, see the note at Romans 1:1. Compare the note at Philemon 1:16. It is remarkable that James does not call himself an apostle; but this does not prove that the writer of the Epistle was not an apostle, for the same omission occurs in the Epistle of John, and in the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, the Thessalonians, and to Philemon. It is remarkable, also, considering the relation which James is supposed to have borne to the Lord Jesus as his “brother” (Galatians 1:19; Introduction, 1). That he did not refer to that as constituting a ground of claim to his right to address others; but this is only one instance out of many, in the New Testament, in which it is regarded as a higher honor to be the “servant of God,” and to belong to his family, than to sustain any relations of blood or kindred. Compare Mat 11:50. It may be observed also (Compare the introduction, Section 1), that this term is one which was especially appropriate to James, as a man eminent for his integrity. His claim to respect and deference was not primarily founded on any relationship which he sustained; any honor of birth or blood; or even any external office, but on the fact that he was a “servant of God.”
And of the Lord Jesus Christ - The “servant of the Lord Jesus,” is an appellation which is often given to Christians, and particularly to the ministers of religion. They are his servants, not in the sense that they are slaves, but in the sense that they voluntarily obey his will, and labor for him, and not for themselves.
To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad - Greek “The twelve tribes which are in the dispersion,” or of the dispersion (ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ en tē diaspora). This word occurs only here and in 1 Peter 1:1, and John 7:35. It refers properly to those who lived out of Palestine, or who were scattered among the Gentiles. There were two great “dispersions;” the Eastern and the Western. The first had its origin about the time when the ten tribes were carried away to Assyria, and in the time of the Babylonian captivity. In consequence of these events, and of the fact that large numbers of the Jews went to Babylon, and other Eastern countries, for purposes of travel, commerce, etc., there were many Jews in the East in the times of the apostles. The other was the Western “dispersion,” which commenced about the time of Alexander the Great, and which was promoted by various causes, until there were large numbers of Jews in Egypt and along Northern Africa, in Asia Minor, in Greece proper, and even in Rome. To which of these classes this Epistle was directed is not known; but most probably the writer had particular reference to those in the East. See the introduction, Section 2. The phrase “the twelve tribes,” was the common term by which the Jewish people were designated, and was in use long after the ten tribes were carried away, leaving, in fact, only two of the twelve in Palestine. Compare the notes at Acts 26:7. Many have supposed that James here addressed them as Jews, and that the Epistle was sent to them as such. But this opinion has no probability; because:
- If this had been the case, he would not have been likely to begin his Epistle by saying that he was “a servant of Jesus Christ,” a name so odious to the Jews.
(2)And, if he had spoken of himself as a Christian, and had addressed his countrymen as himself a believer in Jesus as the Messiah, though regarding them as Jews, it is incredible that he did not make a more distinct reference to the principles of the Christian religion; that he used no arguments to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah; that he did not attempt to convert them to the Christian faith.
It should be added, that at first most converts were made from those who had been trained in the Jewish faith, and it is not improbable that one in Jerusalem, addressing those who were Christians out of Palestine, would naturally think of them as of Jewish origin, and would be likely to address them as appertaining to the “twelve tribes.” The phrase “the twelve tribes” became also a sort of technical expression to denote the people of God - the church.
Greeting - A customary form of salutation, meaning, in Greek, to joy, to rejoice; and implying that he wished their welfare. Compare Acts 15:23.
My brethren - Not brethren as Jews, but as Christians. Compare James 2:1.
Count it all joy - Regard it as a thing to rejoice in; a matter which should afford you happiness. You are not to consider it as a punishment, a curse, or a calamity, but as a fit subject of felicitation. Compare the notes at Matthew 5:12.
When ye fall into divers temptations - Oh the meaning of the word “temptations,” see the notes at Matthew 4:1. It is now commonly used in the sense of placing allurements before others to induce them to sin, and in this sense the word seems to be used in James 1:13-14 of this chapter. Here, however, the word is used in the sense of trials, to wit, by persecution, poverty, calamity of any kind. These cannot be said to be direct inducements or allurements to sin, but they try the faith, and they show whether he who is tried is disposed to adhere to his faith in God, or whether he will apostatize. They so far coincide with temptations, properly so called, as to test the religion of men. They differ from temptations, properly so called, in that they are not brought before the mind for the express purpose of inducing people to sin. In this sense it is true that God never tempts men, James 1:13-14. On the sentiment in the passage before us, see the notes at 1 Peter 1:6-7. The word “divers” here refers to the various kinds of trials which they might experience - sickness, poverty, bereavement, persecution, etc. They were to count it a matter of joy that their religion was subjected to anything that tried it. It is well for us to have the reality of our religion tested, in whatever way it may be done.
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience - Patience is one of the fruits of such a trial, and the grace of patience is worth the trial which it may cost to procure it. This is one of the passages which show that James was acquainted with the writings of Paul. See the Introduction, Section 5. The sentiment expressed here is found in Romans 5:3. See the notes at that verse. Paul has carried the sentiment out farther, and shows that tribulation produces other effects than patience. James only asks that patience may have its perfect work, supposing that every Christian grace is implied in this.
But let patience have her perfect work - Let it be fairly developed; let it produce its appropriate effects without being hindered. Let it not be obstructed in its fair influence on the soul by murmurings, complaining, or rebellion. Patience under trials is fitted to produce important effects on the soul, and we are not to hinder them in any manner by a perverse spirit, or by opposition to the will of God. Every one who is afflicted should desire that the fair effects of affliction should be produced on his mind, or that there should be produced in his soul precisely the results which his trials are adapted to accomplish.
That ye may be perfect and entire - The meaning of this is explained in the following phrase - “wanting nothing;” that is, that there may be nothing lacking to complete your character. There may be the elements of a good character; there may be sound principles, but those principles may not be fully carried out so as to show what they are. Afflictions, perhaps more than anything else, will do this, and we should therefore allow them to do all that they are adapted to do in developing what is good in us. The idea here is, that it is desirable not only to have the elements or principles of piety in the soul, but to have them fairly carried out, so as to show what is their real tendency and value. Compare the notes at 1 Peter 1:7. On the word “perfect,” as used in the Scriptures, see the notes at Job 1:1. The word rendered “entire” (ὁλόκληροι holoklēroi) means, whole in every part. Compare the notes at 1 Thessalonians 5:23. The word occurs only in these two places. The corresponding noun (ὁλοκληρία holoklēria) occurs in Acts 3:16, rendered “perfect soundness.”
Wanting nothing - “Being left in nothing;” that is, everything being complete, or fully carried out.
If any of you lack wisdom - Probably this refers particularly to the kind of wisdom which they would need in their trials, to enable them to bear them in a proper manner, for there is nothing in which Christians more feel the need of heavenly wisdom than in regard to the manner in which they should bear trials, and what they should do in the perplexities, and disappointments, and bereavements that come upon them; but the language employed is so general, that what is here said may be applied to the need of wisdom in all respects. The particular kind of wisdom which we need in trials is to enable us to understand their design and tendency; to perform our duty under them, or the new duties which may grow out of them; to learn the lessons which God designs to teach, for he always designs to teach us some valuable lessons by affliction; and to cultivate such views and feelings as are appropriate under the peculiar forms of trial which are brought upon us; to find out the sins for which we have been afflicted, and to learn how we may avoid them in time to come. We are in great danger of going wrong when we are afflicted; of complaining and murmuring; of evincing a spirit of rebellion, and of losing the benefits which we might have obtained if we had submitted to the trial in a proper manner. So in all things we “lack wisdom.” We are short-sighted; we have hearts prone to sin; and there are great and important matters pertaining to duty and salvation on which we cannot but feel that we need heavenly guidance.
Let him ask of God - That is, for the specific wisdom which he needs; the very wisdom which is necessary for him in the particular case. It is proper to bear the very case before God; to make mention of the specific want; to ask of God to guide us in the very matter where we feel so much embarrassment. It is one of the privileges of Christians, that they may not only go to God and ask him for that general wisdom which is needful for them in life, but that whenever a particular emergency arises, a case of perplexity and difficulty in regard to duty, they may bring that particular thing before his throne, with the assurance that he will guide them. Compare Psalms 25:9; Isaiah 37:14; Joel 2:17.
That giveth to all men liberally - The word men here is supplied by the translators, but not improperly, though the promise should be regarded as restricted to those who ask. The object of the writer was to encourage those who felt their need of wisdom, to go and ask it of God; and it would not contribute anything to furnish such a specific encouragement to say of God that he gives to all men liberally whether they ask or not. In the Scriptures, the promise of divine aid is always limited to the desire. No blessing is promised to man that is not sought; no man can feel that he has a right to hope for the favor of God, who does not value it enough to pray for it; no one ought to obtain it, who does not prize it enough to ask for it. Compare Matthew 7:7-8. The word rendered “liberally” haploos - means, properly, “simply;” that is, in simplicity, sincerity, reality. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, though the corresponding noun occurs in Romans 12:8; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 11:3, rendered simplicity; in 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:13, rendered “liberality,” and “liberal;” 2 Corinthians 9:11, rendered “bountifulness;” and Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22, rendered “singleness,” of the heart. The idea seems to be that of openness, frankness, generosity; the absence of all that is sordid and contracted; where there is the manifestation of generous feeling, and liberal conduct. In a higher sense than in the case of any man, all that is excellent in these things is to be found in God; and we may therefore come to him feeling that in his heart there is more that is noble and generous in bestowing favors than in any other being. There is nothing that is stinted and close; there is no partiality; there is no withholding of his favor because we are poor, and unlettered, and unknown.
And upbraideth not - Does not reproach, rebuke, or treat harshly. He does not coldly repel us, if we come and ask what we need, though we do it often and with importunity. Compare Luke 18:1-7. The proper meaning of the Greek word is to rail at, reproach, revile, chide; and the object here is probably to place the manner in which God bestows his favors in contrast with what sometimes occurs among men. He does not reproach or chide us for our past conduct; for our foolishness; for our importunity in asking. He permits us to come in the most free manner, and meets us with a Spirit of entire kindness, and with promptness in granting our requests. We are not always sure, when we ask a favor of a man, that we shall not encounter something that will be repulsive, or that will mortify us; we are certain, however, when we ask a favor of God, that we shall never be reproached in an unfeeling manner, or meet with a harsh response.
And it shall be given him - Compare Jeremiah 29:12-13; “Then shall ye call upon me, and go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with your whole heart.” See also Matthew 7:7-8; Matthew 21:22; Mar 11:24; 1 John 3:22; 1 John 5:14. This promise in regard to the wisdom that may be necessary for us, is absolute; and we may be sure that if it be asked in a proper manner it will be granted us. There can be no doubt that it is one of the things which God is able to impart; which will be for our own good; and which, therefore, he is ever ready to bestow. About many things there might be doubt whether, if they were granted, they would be for our real welfare, and therefore there may be a doubt whether it would be consistent for God to bestow them; but there can be no such doubt about wisdom. That is always for our good; and we may be sure, therefore, that we shall obtain that, if the request be made with a right spirit. If it be asked in what way we may expect he will bestow it on us, it may be replied:
- That it is through his word - by enabling us to see clearly the meaning of the sacred volume, and to understand the directions which he has there given to guide us;
- By the secret influences of his Spirit.
(a) Suggesting to us the way in which we should go, and,
(b) Inclining us to do that which is prudent and wise; and,
- By the events of His Providence making plain to us the path of duty, and removing the obstructions which may be in our path. It is easy for God to guide his people; and they who “watch daily at the gates, and wait at the posts of the doors” of wisdom Proverbs 8:34, will not be in danger of going astray. Psalms 25:9.
But let him ask in faith - See the passages referred to in James 1:5. Compare the Matthew 7:7 note, and Hebrews 11:6 note. We cannot hope to obtain any favor from God if there is not faith; and where, as in regard to the wisdom necessary to guide us, we are sure that it is in accordance with his will to grant it to us, we may come to him with the utmost confidence, the most entire assurance, that it will be granted. In this case, we should come to God without a doubt that, if we ask with a proper spirit, the very thing that we ask will be bestowed on us. We cannot in all other cases be so sure that what we ask will be for our good, or that it will be in accordance with his will to bestow it; and hence, we cannot in such cases come with the same kind of faith. We can then only come with unwavering confidence in God, that he will do what is right and best; and that if he sees that what we ask will be for our good, he will bestow it upon us. Here, however, nothing prevents our coming with the assurance that the very thing which we ask will be conferred on us.
Nothing wavering - (μηδὲν διακρινόμενος mēden diakrinomenos.) “Doubting or hesitating as to nothing, or in no respect.” See Acts 20:20; Acts 11:12. In regard to the matter under consideration, there is to be no hesitancy, no doubting, no vacillation of the mind. We are to come to God with the utmost confidence and assurance.
For he that wavereth, is like a wave of the sea ... - The propriety and beauty of this comparison will be seen at once. The wave of the sea has no stability. It is at the mercy of every wind, and seems to be driven and tossed every way. So he that comes to God with unsettled convictions and hopes, is liable to be driven about by every new feeling that may spring up in the mind. At one moment, hope and faith impel him to come to God; then the mind is at once filled with uncertainty and doubt, and the soul is agitated and restless as the ocean. Compare Isaiah 57:20. Hope on the one hand, and the fear of not obtaining the favor which is desired on the other, keep the mind restless and discomposed.
For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord - Compare Hebrews 11:6. A man can hope for favor from God only as he puts confidence in him. He sees the heart; and if he sees that there is no belief in his existence, or his perfections - no real trust in him - no reliance on his promises, his wisdom, his grace - it cannot be proper that he should grant an answer to our petitions. That will account sufficiently for the fact that there are so many prayers unanswered; that we so frequently go to the throne of grace, and are sent empty away. A man that goes to God in such a state of mind, should not expect to receive any favor.
A double minded man - The word here used, δίψυχος dipsuchos occurs only here and in James 4:8. It means, properly, one who has two souls; then one who is wavering or inconstant. It is applicable to a man who has no settled principles; who is controlled by passion; who is influenced by popular feeling; who is now inclined to one opinion or course of conduct, and now to another.
Is unstable in all his ways - That is, not merely in regard to prayer, the point particularly under discussion, but in respect to everything. From the instability which the wavering must evince in regard to prayer, the apostle takes occasion to make the general remark concerning such a man, that stability and firmness could be expected on no subject. The hesitancy which manifested on that one subject would extend to all; and we might expect to find such a man irresolute and undetermined in all things. This is always true. If we find a man who takes hold of the promises of God with firmness; who feels the deepest assurance when he prays that God will hear prayer; who always goes to him without hesitation in his perplexities and trials, never wavering, we shall find one who is firm in his principles, steady in his integrity, settled in his determinations, and steadfast in his plans of life - a man whose character we shall feel that we understand, and in whom we can confide. Such a man eminently was Luther; and the spirit which is thus evinced by taking firmly hold of the promises of God is the best kind of religion.
Let the brother of low degree - This verse seems to introduce a new topic, which has no other connection with what precedes than that the apostle is discussing the general subject of trials. Compare James 1:2. Turning from the consideration of trials in general, he passes to the consideration of a particular kind of trials, that which results from a change of circumstances in life, from poverty to affluence, and from affluence to poverty. The idea which seems to have been in the mind of the apostle is, that there is a great and important trial of faith in any reverse of circumstances; a trial in being elevated from poverty to riches, or in being depressed from a state of affluence to want. Wherever change occurs in the external circumstances of life, there a man’s religion is put to the test, and there he should feel that God is trying the reality of his faith. The phrase “of low degree” (ταπεινὸς tapeinos) means one in humble circumstances; one of lowly rank or employment; one in a condition of dependence or poverty. It stands here particularly opposed to one who is rich; and the apostle doubtless had his eye, in the use of this word, on those who had been poor.
Rejoice - Margin, “glory.” Not because, being made rich, he has the means of sensual gratification and indulgence; not because he will now be regarded as a rich man, and will feel that he is above want; not even because he will have the means of doing good to others. Neither of these was the idea in the mind of the apostle; but it was, that the poor man that is made rich should rejoice because his faith and the reality of his religion are now tried; because a test is furnished which will show, in the new circumstances in which he is placed, whether his piety is genuine. In fact, there is almost no trial of religion which is more certain and decisive than that furnished by a sudden transition from poverty to affluence from adversity to prosperity, from sickness to health. There is much religion in the world that will bear the ills of poverty, sickness, and persecution, or that will bear the temptations arising from prosperity, and even affluence, which will not bear the transition from one to the other; as there is many a human frame that could become accustomed to bear either the steady heat of the equator, or the intense cold of the north, that could not bear a rapid transition from the one to the other. See this thought illustrated in the notes at Philippians 4:12.
In that he is exalted - A good man might rejoice in such a transition, because it would furnish him the means of being more extensively useful; most persons would rejoice because such a condition is that for which men commonly aim, and because it would furnish them the means of display, of sensual gratification, or of ease; but neither of these is the idea of the apostle. The thing in which we are to rejoice in the transitions of life is, that a test is furnished of our piety; that a trial is applied to it which enables us to determine whether it is genuine. The most important thing conceivable for us is to know whether we are true Christians, and we should rejoice in everything that will enable us to settle this point.
(Yet it seems not at all likely that an Apostle would exhort a poor man to rejoice in his exaltation to wealth. An exhortation to fear and trembling appears more suitable. Wealth brings along with it so many dangerous temptations, that a man must have greater confidence in his faith and stability than he ought to have, who can rejoice in its acquisition, simply as furnishing occasion to try him: the same may be said of poverty, or of the transition front riches to poverty. The spirit of Agar is more suitable to the humility of piety, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me, lest I be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain, “Proverbs 30:8-9. Besides, there is no necessity for resorting to this interpretation. The words will, without any straining, bear another sense, which is both excellent in itself, and suitable in its connection. The poor man, or man in humble life, may well rejoice “in that he is exalted” to the dignity of a child of God, and heir of glory.
If he be depressed with his humble rank in this life, let him but think of his spiritual elevation, of his relation to God and Christ, and he shall have an antidote for his dejection. What is the world’s dignity in comparison of his! The rich man, or the man of rank, on the other hand, has reason to rejoice “in that he is made low” through the possession of a meek and humble spirit which his affluence illustrates, but neither destroys nor impairs. It would be matter of grief were he otherwise minded; since all his adventitious splendor is as evanescent as the flower which, forming for a time the crown of the green stalk on which it hangs, perishes before it. This falls admirably in with the design of the Apostle, which was to fortify Christians against trial. Every condition in life had its own trials. The two great conditions of poverty and wealth had theirs; but Christianity guards against the danger, both of the one state and of the other. It elevates the poor under his depression, and humbles the rich in his elevation, and bids both rejoice in its power to shield and bless them. The passage in this view is conceived in the same spirit with one of Paul, in which he beautifully balances the respective conditions of slaves and freemen, by honoring the former with the appellation of the Lord’s freemen, and imposing on the latter that of Christ’s servants, 1 Corinthians 7:22.)
But the rich, in that he is made low - That is, because his property is taken away, and he is made poor. Such a transition is often the source of the deepest sorrow; but the apostle says that even in that a Christian may find occasion for thanksgiving. The reasons for rejoicing in this manner, which the apostle seems to have had in view, were these:
(1)Because it furnished a test of the reality of religion, by showing that it is adapted to sustain the soul in this great trial; that it can not only bear prosperity, but that it can bear the rapid transition from that state to one of poverty; and,
(2)Because it would furnish to the mind an impressive and salutary illustration of the fact that all earthly glory is soon to fade away.
I may remark here, that the transition from affluence to poverty is often borne by Christians with the manifestation of a most lovely spirit, and with an entire freedom from murmuring and complaining. Indeed, there are more Christians who could safely bear a transition from affluence to poverty, from prosperity to adversity, than there are who could bear a sudden transition from poverty to affluence. Some of the loveliest exhibitions of piety which I have ever witnessed have been in such transitions; nor have I seen occasion anywhere to love religion more than in the ease, and grace, and cheerfulness, with which it has enabled those accustomed long to more elevated walks, to descend to the comparatively humble lot where God places them. New grace is imparted for this new form of trial, and new traits of Christian character are developed in these rapid transitions, as some of the most beautiful exhibitions of the laws of matter are brought out in the rapid transitions in the laboratory of the chemist.
Because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away - That is, since it is a fact that he will thus pass away, he should rejoice that he is reminded of it. He should, therefore, esteem it a favor that this lesson is brought impressively before his mind. To learn this effectually, though by the loss of property, is of more value to him than all his wealth would be if he were forgetful of it. The comparison of worldly splendor with the fading flower of the field, is one that is common in Scripture. It is probable that James had his eye on the passage in Isaiah 40:6-8. See the notes at that passage. Compare the notes at 1 Peter 1:24-25. See also Psalms 103:15; Matthew 6:28-30.
For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat - Isaiah Isaiah 40:7 employs the word “wind,” referring to a burning wind that dries up the flowers. It is probable that the apostle also refers not so much to the sun itself, as to the hot and fiery wind called the simoom, which often rises with the sun, and which consumes the green herbage of the fields. So Rosenmuller and Bloomfield interpret it.
It withereth the grass - Isaiah 40:7. It withereth the stalk, or that which, when dried, produces hay or fodder - the word here used being commonly employed in the latter sense. The meaning is, that the effect of the hot wind is to wither the stalk or spire which supports the flower, and when that is dried up, the flower itself falls. This idea will give increased beauty and appropriateness to the figure - that man himself is blasted and withered, and then that all the external splendor which encircled him falls to the ground, like a flower whose support is gone.
And the grace of the fashion of it perisheth - Its beauty disappears.
So shall the rich man fade away in his ways - That is, his splendor, and all on which he prideth himself, shall vanish. The phrase “in his ways,” according to Rosenmuller, refers to his counsels, his plans, his purposes; and the meaning is, that the rich man, with all by which he is known, shall vanish. A man’s “ways,” that is, his mode of life, or those things by which he appears before the world, may have somewhat the same relation to him which the flower has to the stalk on which it grows, and by which it is sustained. The idea of James seems to be, that as it was indisputable that the rich man must soon disappear, with all that he had of pomp and splendor in the view of the world, it was well for him to be reminded of it by every change of condition; and that he should therefore rejoice in the providential dispensation by which his property would be taken away, and by which the reality of his religion would be tested. We should rejoice in anything by which it can be shown whether we are prepared for heaven or not.
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation - The apostle seems here to use the word “temptation” in the most general sense, as denoting anything that will try the reality of religion, whether affliction, or persecution, or a direct inducement to sin placed before the mind. The word temptation appears in this chapter to be used in two senses; and the question may arise, why the apostle so employs it. Compare James 1:2, James 1:13. But, in fact, the word “temptation” is in itself of so general a character as to cover the whole usage, and to justify the manner in which it is employed. It denotes anything that will try or test the reality of our religion; and it may be applied, therefore, either to afflictions or to direct solicitations to sin - the latter being the sense in which it is now commonly employed. In another respect, also, essentially the same idea enters into both the ways in which the word is employed.
Affliction, persecution, sickness, etc., may be regarded as, in a certain sense, temptations to sin; that is, the question comes before us whether we will adhere to the religion on account of which we are persecuted, or apostatize from it, and escape these sufferings; whether in sickness and losses we will be patient and submissive to that God who lays his hand upon us, or revolt and murmur. In each and every case, whether by affliction, or by direct allurements to do wrong, the question comes before the mind whether we have religion enough to keep us, or whether we will yield to murmuring, to rebellion, and to sin. In these respects, in a general sense, all forms of trial may be regarded as temptation. Yet in the following verse James 1:13 the apostle would guard this from abuse. So far as the form of trial involved an allurement or inducement to sin, he says that no man should regard it as from God. That cannot be his design. The trial is what he aims at, not the sin. In the verse before us he says, that whatever may be the form of the trial, a Christian should rejoice in it, for it will furnish an evidence that he is a child of God.
For when he is tried - In any way - if he bears the trial.
He shall receive the crown of life - See the notes at 2 Timothy 4:8. It is possible that James had that passage in his eye Compare the Introduction, 5.
Which the Lord hath promised - The sacred writers often speak of such a crown as promised, or as in reserve for the children of God. 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:11; Revelation 4:4.
Them that love him - A common expression to denote those who are truly pious, or who are his friends. It is sufficiently distinctive to characterize them, for the great mass of men do not love God. Compare Romans 1:30.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God - See the remarks on the previous verse. The apostle here seems to have had his eye on whatever there was in trial of any kind to induce us to commit sin - whether by complaining, by murmuring, by apostacy, or by yielding to sin. So far as that was concerned, he said that no one should charge it on God. He did nothing in any way with a view to induce men to do evil. That was only an incidental thing in the trial, and was no part of the divine purpose or design. The apostle felt evidently that there was great danger, from the general manner in which the word “temptation” was used, and from the perverse tendency of the heart, that it would be charged on God that he so arranged these trials, and so influenced the mind, as to present inducements to sin. Against this, it was proper that an inspired apostle should bear his solemn testimony; so to guard the whole subject as to show that whatever there was in any form of trial that could be regarded as an inducement or allurement to sin, is not the thing which he contemplated in the arrangement, and does not proceed from him. It has its origin in other causes; and if there was nothing in the corrupt human mind itself leading to sin, there would be nothing in the divine arrangement that would produce it.
For God cannot be tempted with evil - Margin, “evils.” The sense is the same. The object seems to be to show that, in regard to the whole matter of temptation, it does not pertain to God. Nothing can be presented to his mind as an inducement to do wrong, and as little can he present anything to the mind of man to induce him to sin. Temptation is a subject which does not pertain to him. He stands aloof from it altogether. In regard to the particular statement here, that “God cannot be tempted with evil,” or to do evil, there can be no doubt of its truth, and it furnishes the highest security for the welfare of the universe. There is nothing in him that has a tendency to wrong; there can be nothing presented from without to induce him to do wrong:
- There is no evil passion to be gratified, as there is in men;
- There is no want of power, so that an allurement could be presented to seek what he has not;
- There is no want of wealth, for he has infinite resources, and all that there is or can be is his Psalms 50:10-11;
- There is no want of happiness, that he should seek happiness in sources which are not now in his possession. Nothing, therefore, could be presented to the divine mind as an inducement to do evil.
Neither tempteth he any man - That is, he places nothing before any human being with a view to induce him to do wrong. This is one of the most positive and unambiguous of all the declarations in the Bible, and one of the most important. It may be added, that it is one which stands in opposition to as many feelings of the human heart as perhaps any other one. We are perpetually thinking - the heart suggests it constantly - that God does place before us inducements to evil, with a view to lead us to sin. This is done in many ways:
- People take such views of his decrees as if the doctrine implied that he meant that we should sin, and that it could not be otherwise than that we should sin.
- It is felt that all things are under his control, and that he has made his arrangements with a design that men should do as they actually do.
- It is said that he has created us with just such dispositions as we actually have, and knowing that we would sin.
- It is said that, by the arrangements of his Providence, he actually places inducements before us to sin, knowing that the effect will be that we will fall into sin, when we might easily have prevented it.
- It is said that he suffers some to tempt others, when he might easily prevent it if he chose, and that this is the same as tempting them himself.
Now, in regard to these things, there may be much which we cannot explain, and much which often troubles the heart even of the good; yet the passage before us is explicit on one point, and all these things must be held in consistency with that - that God does not place inducements before us with a view that we should sin, or in order to lead us into sin. None of his decrees, or his arrangements, or his desires, are based on that, but all have some other purpose and end. The real force of temptation is to be traced to some other source - to ourselves, and not to God. See the next verse.
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust - That is, the fountain or source of all temptation is in man himself. It is true that external inducements to sin may be placed before him, but they would have no force if there was not something in himself to which they corresponded, and over which they might have power. There must be some “lust;” some desire; some inclination; something which is unsatisfied now, which is made the foundation of the temptation, and which gives it all its power. If there were no capacity for receiving food, or desire for it, objects placed before us appealing to the appetite could never be made a source of temptation; if there were nothing in the soul which could be regarded as the love of acquisition or possession, gold would furnish no temptation; if there were no sensual propensities, we should be in that quarter above the power of temptation.
In each case, and in every form, the power of the temptation is laid in some propensity of our nature, some desire of that which we do not now possess. The word rendered “lust” in this place (ἐπιθυμίας epithumias), is not employed here in the narrow sense in which it is now commonly used, as denoting libidinousness. It means desire in general; an earnest wish for anything. Notes, Ephesians 4:22. It seems here to be used with reference to the original propensities of our nature - the desires implanted in us, which are a stimulus to employment - as the desire of knowledge, of food, of power, of sensual gratifications; and the idea is, that a man may be drawn along by these beyond the prescribed limits of indulgence, and in the pursuit of objects that are forbidden. He does not stop at the point at which the law requires him to stop, and is therefore guilty of transgression. This is the source of all sin. The original propensity may not be wrong, but may be perfectly harmless - as in the case of the desire of food, etc. Nay, it may furnish a most desirable stimulus to action; for how could the human powers be called forth, if it were not for this? The error, the fault, the sin, is, not restraining the indulgence where we are commanded to do it, either in regard to the objects sought, or in regard to the degree of indulgence.
And enticed - Entrapped, caught; that is, he is seized by this power, and held fast; or he is led along and beguiled, until he falls into sin, as in a snare that springs suddenly upon him.
Επιθυμια Epithumia in the New Testament, is sometimes employed in a good sense, Luke 22:15; Phi 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:17; often in a bad sense, as in Mark 4:19; John 8:44; Romans 1:24; Romans 6:12; Romans 7:7; 1 John 2:16; but there is no difficulty in making the distinction; the context easily determining the matter. And this passage in James seems at once to fix down on επιθυμιας epithumias the sense of evil or corrupt desire. That it can mean a “harmless propensity;” or that it is a propensity on whose character the apostle does not at all pronounce, is incredible. It is said to “draw away a man and entice him;” to “conceive and bring forth sin:” and a principle from which such fruit springs cannot be very harmless. Without doubt, the apostle traces the whole evil of temptation, which some falsely ascribed to God, to the sinful desires of the human heart; and, as our author remarks, he seems to take the common sense view without entertaining any thought of nice philosophical distinction. We cannot for a moment suppose the apostle to say - “the evil is not to be traced to God, but to a harmless propensity.”
The whole passage, with the words and figures which are used, show that the idea in the apostle’s mind was that of an enticing harlot. The επιθυμια epithumia is personified. She persuades the understanding and will into her impure embrace. The result of this fatal union is the “conception” and ultimate “bringing forth” of actual sin, which again brings forth death. This is the true genealogy of sin (McKnight); and to say that the επιθυμια epithumia, or evil desire, of which the apostle says that it is the “origo mali,” is harmless, - is to contradict him, and Paul also, who in a parallel passage says that he had not known the επιθυμια epithumia, or inward desire after forbidden objects, to be sinful, unless the law had enlightened him and said “thou shalt not covet.” Mr. Scott has spoken in strong terms of the folly of some parties who understand επιθυμια epithumia. Here only of the desire of sensual gross indulgence, to the exclusion of other sinful desires; but the extreme of interpreting it as meaning nothing sinful at all, deserves equal reprehension. The reader, however, will notice that the author does not venture on this assertion. He says “it may be so,” and otherwise modifies his view.)
Then when lust hath conceived - Compare Job 15:35. The allusion here is obvious. The meaning is, when the desire which we have naturally is quickened, or made to act, the result is that sin is produced. As our desires of good lie in the mind by nature, as our propensities exist as they were created, they cannot be regarded as sin, or treated as such; but when they are indulged, when plans of gratification are formed, when they are developed in actual life, the effect is sin. In the mere desire of good, of happiness, of food, of raiment, there is no sin; it becomes sin when indulged in an improper manner, and when it leads us to seek that which is forbidden - to invade the rights of others, or in any way to violate the laws of God. The Rabbis have a metaphor which strongly expresses the general sense of this passage” - “Evil concupiscence is at the beginning like the thread of a spider’s web; afterwards it is like a cart rope.” Sanhedrin, fol. 99.
It bringeth forth sin - The result is sin - open, actual sin. When that which is conceived in the heart is matured, it is seen to be sin. The design of all this is to show that sin is not to be traced to God, but to man himself; and in order to this, the apostle says that there is enough in the heart of man to account for all actual sin, without supposing that it is caused by God. The solution which he gives is, that there are certain propensities in man which, when they are suffered to act themselves out, will account for all the sin in the world. In regard to those native propensities themselves, he does not say whether he regards them as sinful and blameworthy or not; and the probability is, that he did not design to enter into a formal examination, or to make a formal statement, of the nature of these propensities themselves. He looked at man as he is as a creature of God - as endowed with certain animal propensities - as seen, in fact, to have strong passions by nature; and he showed that there was enough in him to account for the existence of sin, without bringing in the agency of God, or charging it on him.
In reference to those propensities, it may be observed that there are two kinds, either of which may account for the existence of sin, but which are frequently both combined. There are, first, our natural propensities; those which we have as men, as endowed with an animal nature, as having constitutional desires to be gratified, and wants to be supplied. Such Adam had in innocence; such the Saviour had; and such are to be regarded as in no respect in themselves sinful and wrong. Yet they may, in our case, as they did in Adam, lead us to sin, because, under their strong influence, we may be led to desire that which is forbidden, or which belongs to another. But there are, secondly, the propensities and inclinations which we have as the result of the fall, and which are evil in their nature and tendency; which as a matter of course, and especially when combined with the former, lead to open transgression. It is not always easy to separate these, and in fact they are often combined in producing the actual guilt of the world. It often requires a close analysis of a man’s own mind to detect these different ingredients in his conduct, and the one often gets the credit of the other. The apostle James seems to have looked at it as a simple matter of fact, with a common sense view, by saying that there were “desires” (ἐπιθυμίας epithumias) in a man’s own mind which would account for all the actual sin in the world, without charging it on God. Of the truth of this, no one can entertain a doubt. - (See the supplementary note above at James 1:14.)
And sin, when it is finished bringeth forth death - The result of sin when it is fully carried out, is death - death in all forms. The idea is, that death, in whatever form it exists, is to be traced to sin, and that sin will naturally and regularly produce it. There is a strong similarity between this declaration and that of the apostle Paul Romans 6:21-23; and it is probable that James had that passage in his mind. See the sentiment illustrated in the notes at that passage, and Romans 5:12 note. Any one who indulges in a sinful thought or corrupt desire, should reflect that it may end in death - death temporal and eternal. Its natural tendency will be to produce such a death. This reflection should induce us to check an evil thought or desire at the beginning. Not for one moment should we indulge in it, for soon it may secure the mastery and be beyond our control; and the end may be seen in the grave, and the awful world of woe.
Do not err, my beloved brethren - This is said as if there were great danger of error in the point under consideration. The point on which he would guard them, seems to have been in respect to the opinion that God was the author of sin, and that the evils in the world are to be traced to him. There was great danger that they would embrace that opinion, for experience has shown that it is a danger into which men are always prone to fall. Some of the sources of this danger have been already alluded to. Notes, James 1:13. To meet the danger he says that, so far is it from being true that God is the source of evil, he is in fact the author of all that is good: every good gift, and every perfect gift James 1:17, is from him, James 1:18.
Every good gift and every perfect gift - The difference between good and perfect here, it is not easy to mark accurately. It may be that the former means that which is benevolent in its character and tendency; the latter that which is entire, where there is nothing even apparently wanting to complete it; where it can be regarded as good as a whole and in all its parts. The general sense is, that God is the author of all good. Every thing that is good on the earth we are to trace to him; evil has another origin. Compare Matthew 13:28.
Is from above - From God, who is often represented as dwelling above - in heaven.
And cometh down from the Father of lights - From God, the source and fountain of all light. Light, in the Scriptures, is the emblem ot knowledge, purity, happiness; and God is often represented as light. Compare 1 John 1:5. Notes, 1 Timothy 6:16. There is, doubtless, an allusion here to the heavenly bodies, among which the sun is the most brilliant. It appears to us to be the great original fountain of light, diffusing its radiance overall worlds. No cloud, no darkness seems to come from the sun, but it pours its rich effulgence on the farthest part of the universe. So it is with God. There is no darkness in him 1 John 1:5; and all the moral light and purity which there is in the universe is to be traced to him. The word Father here is used in a sense which is common in Hebrew (Compare the notes at Matthew 1:1) as denoting that which is the source of anything, or that from which anything proceeds. Compare the notes at Isaiah 9:6.
With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning - The design here is clearly to contrast God with the sun in a certain respect. As the source of light, there is a strong resemblance. But in the sun there are certain changes. It does not shine on all parts of the earth at the same time, nor in the same manner all the year. It rises and sets; it crosses the line, and seems to go far to the south, and sends its rays obliquely on the earth; then it ascends to the north, recrosses the line, and sends its rays obliquely on southern regions. By its revolutions it produces the changes of the seasons, and makes a constant variety on the earth in the productions of different climes. In this respect God is not indeed like the sun. With him there is no variableness, not even the appearance of turning. He is always the same, at all seasons of the year, and in all ages; there is no change in his character, his mode of being, his purposes and plans. What he was millions of ages before the worlds were made, he is now; what he is now, he will be countless millions of ages hence. We may be sure that whatever changes there may be in human affairs; whatever reverses we may undergo; whatever oceans we may cross, or whatever mountains we may climb, or in whatever worlds we may hereafter take up our abode, God is the same. The word which is here rendered “variableness” (παραλλαγὴ parallagē) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It means change, alteration, vicissitude, and would properly be applied to the changes observed in astronomy. See the examples quoted in Wetstein. The phrase rendered “shadow of turning” would properly refer to the different shade or shadow cast by the sun from an object, in its various revolutions, in rising and setting, and in its changes at the different seasons of the year. God, on the other hand, is as if the sun stood in the meridian at noon-day, and never cast any shadow.
Of his own will - Greek “willing.” βουληθεὶς boulētheis. The idea is, that the fact that we are “begotten” to be his children is to be traced solely to his will. He purposed it, and it was done. The antecedent in the case on which all depended was the sovereign will of God. See this sentiment explained in the notes at John 1:13. Compare the notes at Ephesians 1:5. When it is said, however, that he has done this by his mere will, it is not to be inferred that there was no reason why it should be done, or that the exercise of his will was arbitrary, but only that his will determined the matter, and that is the cause of our conversion. It is not to be inferred that there are not in all cases good reasons why God wills as he does, though those reasons are not often stated to us, and perhaps we could not comprehend them if they were. The object of the statement here seems to be to direct the mind up to God as the source of good and not evil; and among the most eminent illustrations of his goodness is this, that by his mere will, without any external power to control him, and where there could be nothing but benevolence, he has adopted us into his family, and given us a most exalted condition, as renovated beings, among his creatures.
Begat he us - The Greek word here is the same which in James 1:15 is rendered “bringeth forth,” - “sin bringeth forth death.” The word is perhaps designedly used here in contrast with that, and the object is to refer to a different kind of production, or bringing forth, under the agency of sin, and the agency of God. The meaning here is, that we owe the beginning of our spiritual life to God.
With the word of truth - By the instrumentality of truth. It was not a mere creative act, but it was by truth as the seed or germ. There is no effect produced in our minds in regeneration which the truth is not fitted to produce, and the agency of God in the case is to secure its fair and full influence on the soul.
That we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures - Compare Ephesians 1:12. For the meaning of the word rendered “first-fruits,” see the note at Romans 8:23. Compare Romans 11:6; Romans 16:5; 1Co 15:20, 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Corinthians 16:15; Revelation 14:4. It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament It denotes, properly, that which is first taken from anything; the portion which was usually offered to God. The phrase here does not primarily denote eminence in honor or degree, but refers rather to time - the first in time; and in a secondary sense it is then used to denote the honor attached to that circumstance. The meaning here is, either.
(1)That, under the gospel, those who were addressed by the apostles had the honor of being first called into his kingdom as a part of that glorious harvest which it was designed to gather in this world, and that the goodness of God was manifested in thus furnishing the first-fruits of a most glorious harvest; or,
(2)The reference may be to the rank and dignity which all who are born again would have among the creatures of God in virtue of the new birth.
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 James 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 (ἐν μακροθυμίᾳ 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 Ecclesiastes 5:2. “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God.” So Proverbs 10:19. “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin.” Proverbs 13:3. “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life.” Proverbs 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 Proverbs 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; Proverbs 11:17; Proverbs 13:10; Proverbs 14:16; Proverbs 15:18; Proverbs 19:19; Proverbs 22:24; Proverbs 25:28; Ecclesiastes 7:9; Romans 12:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 1 Peter 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.
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.
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 Matthew 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 Mark 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 Romans 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 Romans 1:16; 1Co 1:18; 2 Timothy 3:15.
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only - Obey the gospel, and do not merely listen to it. Compare Matthew 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.
For if any be ... - The ground of the comparison in these verses is obvious. The apostle refers to what all persons experience, the fact that we do not retain a distinct impression of ourselves after we have looked in a mirror. While actually looking in the mirror, we see all our features, and can trace them distinctly; when we turn away, the image and the impression both vanish. When looking in the mirror, we can see all the defects and blemishes of our person; if there is a scar, a deformity, a feature of ugliness, it is distinctly before the mind; but when we turn away, that is “out of sight and out of mind.” When unseen it gives no uneasiness, and, even if capable of correction, we take no pains to remove it. So when we hear the word of God. It is like a mirror held up before us. In the perfect precepts of the law, and the perfect requirements of the gospel, we see our own short-comings and defects, and perhaps think that we will correct them. But we turn away immediately, and forget it all. If, however, we were doers of the word,” we should endeavor to remove all those defects and blemishes in our moral character, and to bring our whole souls into conformity with what the law and the gospel require. The phrase “natural face” (Greek: face of birth), means, the face or appearance which we have in virtue of our natural birth. The word glass here means mirror. Glass was not commonly used for mirrors among the ancients, but they were made of polished plates of metal. See the Isaiah 3:24 note, and Job 37:18 note.
For he beholdeth himself - While he looks in the mirror he sees his true appearance.
And goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth - As soon as he goes away, he forgets it. The apostle does not refer to any intention on his part, but to what is known to occur as a matter of fact.
What manner of than he was - How he looked; and especially if there was anything in his appearance that required correction.
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 1 Peter 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 katanoēse) 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 Psalms 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 Psalms 119:45; Notes, Romans 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 John 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. Psalms 19:11. “In keeping of them there is great reward.”
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.
Pure religion - On the word here rendered “religion” (θρησκεία thrēskeia), see the notes at Colossians 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,” Psalms 68:5; and who has always revealed himself as their friend, Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 14:29; Psalms 10:14; Psalms 82:3; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 7:7; Jeremiah 49:11; Hosea 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, Isaiah 1:17; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 14:29; Exodus 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 Romans 12:2 note; James 4:4 note; 1 John 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?
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on James 1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29