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Bible Commentaries

Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

James 4

Verses 1-10



1. “Whence come wars and fightings within you?” James here enters into a powerful argument against inbred sin. The heart of the unsanctified soon becomes the scene of a terrible civil war. Paul, in Colossians 3:0, describes the members of Adam the first, anger, wrath, malice, envy, jealousy, revenge, and all the motley cohorts of malignant affections, ever and anon rising up and waging an exterminating war against the grace imparted in regeneration.

2. Here is evidently a tacit allusion to those terrible wars that raged in Palestine immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

3. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, in order that you may expend it in your pleasures.” God in great mercy keeps us poor that He may take us to heaven. If we had been rich the temptation to sensual pleasures would have defeated us, alienating us from God, and leading us off after the world.

4. “Ye adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship of the world is enmity to God?” While the Church of God throughout the Bible is represented by a pure woman, the fallen Church is constantly emblematized by a harlot. So long as the Apostolic Church remained pure the world was arrayed against her, the Roman emperors doing their utmost for her extermination. When the awful Constantinian apostasy utterly derailed the Church from the glorious Apostolic doctrine of entire sanctification, she took the world, with its floods of corruption, into her pales, drifting fast into the sensualities and debaucheries of Romanism. “The friendship of the world” is the bane of the popular church at the present day, fast engulfing her informality and hypocrisy. “Therefore, whosoever may wish to be the friend of the world becomes the enemy of God.” In Satan’s Eden conquest he conquered the world; not only taking it into his corrupt and polluted kingdom, but utterly alienating it from God, hence Ekklesia, the Church, means the people called out of the world and separated unto God; while hagiazo, sanctify, means to take the world out of us. Hence you see the irreconcilable disharmony of this fallen world with God and holiness. Ever since Satan succeeded in the abduction of this world from God he has powerfully and incessantly used it as a passport to hell. The Church at the present day is encumbered with mountains of worldliness, expediting them at race-horse speed to Romanism and Satan.

5. “Do you not know that the Scripture positively says, the Spirit who dwelleth in us desireth us unto jealousy?” This verse is the grand culmination of this powerful argument against inbred sin so vividly portrayed in spiritual wedlock. In regeneration the soul is betrothed to the spiritual Christ, and married in sanctification. In this argument we have a vivid description of the regenerated soul’s carnal lovers, still surviving in the heart and doing their utmost to prevail on that soul to enter into spiritual wedlock, consummating hopeless apostasy and damnation. The two years of the betrothal state are memorable in my history, because the lovers waiting my contemplated bride kept me in hot water, tortured with solicitude lest discarding me she might enter into wedlock with one of them. From our conversion the Holy Ghost is anxious to consummate nuptials in our sanctification. forever defeating and exterminating all of our carnal lovers. On the return of the Greek army from the memorable ten years’ siege and final destruction of Troy, the fleet of Ulysses was separated by a storm, tossed on unknown seas, and wrecked on foreign shores till ten years more had elapsed, giving him an absence of twenty years from his kingdom. Meanwhile his beautiful and accomplished queen, Penelope, was terribly beset by the young princes of Greece, night and day pressing their suit for her hand in wedlock, and at the same time year after year devouring the subsistence of her kingdom, assuring her that her husband has been buried in the dark, deep sea, and will never return again. In her desperation to postpone the suitors, whose military power she seriously feared, she resorts to a strategem, alleging that she was weaving a great web for a burial shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes, then venerable with years. The suitors, impatient and vexed over the postponement, in their nightly vigils at length discover that she raveled out at night what she had woven in the day, thus maneuvering to postpone the celebration of the nuptis. At the expiration of twenty years, behold, Ulysses arrives, slays all the suitors in a hand-to-hand combat, and takes possession of his kingdom. Now remember that you have an Omnipotent Ulysses, to whom, if you will be true, He will assuredly come in due time, slay all of your carnal lovers in a hand-to-hand fight and take you to His bosom to be His royal spouse forever. This wonderful verse says the Holy Ghost is jealous of all His rival suitors, i. e., this seductive group of worldly lovers. Will you not turn them all over to Him that He may slay them, and enter into heavenly wedlock with your soul?

6. He giveth more grace, i. e., the grace of sanctification to that of justification.

7. The devil is a coward and easily put to flight in every case of true heroism.

8. “Clean your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double-souled people.” The sinner has one soul, and that is a bad one, transmitted from Satan by Adam the first. The sanctified man has one soul, and that is a good one, transmitted to him by Adam the Second. The unsanctified Christian is a double-souled man, having the carnal mind in a state of subjugation and the mind of Christ enthroned in the heart. James winds up the argument with an enthusiastic altar call to sinners for pardon and to Christians for sanctification. That is the true genius of the gospel, great altars crowded with sinners seeking justification and Christians seeking holiness.

9. “Be afflicted and mourn and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into sorrow.” James believed in the good old style mourner’s bench, where people weep, grieve, mourn and afflict themselves with the deepest sorrow, till Jesus comes to their relief and speaks their sins all forgiven till the sanctifying power sweeps down from heaven’s altars in showers of fire, consuming all hereditary depravity. You must remember also that this is also a mixed altar, in which sinners seeking pardon and double-minded Christians seeking sanctification are indiscriminately mixed up; meanwhile the billows of God’s free grace are rolling over them, regenerating the one and sanctifying the other.

10. “Humble yourself before the Lord and He will raise you up.” God’s ways are diametrically the opposite to man’s ways. When human pride wants to rise it climbs, only to fall and break its neck. When true consecration goes down to the bottom of humiliation’s holy valley, the Omnipotent Hand in due time lifts you up to the top of Pisgah. In this wonderful argument against inbred sin, we see it culminating in the spiritual wedlock of the soul and the utter defeat of all her carnal lovers amid a rousing altar service for the conversion of sinners and the sanctification of Christians, in which grace gloriously prevails and victory brightens on Immanuel’s banner.

Verses 11-12



11. “Speak not against one another my brethren.” This paragraph warns us against all sorts of unbrotherly criticism, depreciating the gifts and graces, and in the end contravening the efficiency and antagonizing the usefulness of a brother or sister. “He that speaketh against a brother or condemneth his brother, speaketh against the law and condemns the law.” This follows as a logical sequence from the commandment of the royal law, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Faithful obedience to this royal commandment would forever paralyze all criticism. We can not overestimate the importance of this argument. Evil speaking is the bane of religion, drying it up in the heart, exterminating it in the life and sweeping like a withering scourge over whole communities. It is both the Scylla and Charbydis in camp-meetings and annual conferences, disseminating blight and desolation.

12. .. “Who art thou who judgest thy neighbor?” Every human being is your neighbor. Judgment here is in the sense of condemnation. The people of this world do not belong to us but to God, hence they are in no way responsible to us for their behavior, but to God alone, who will certainly deal justly with every human being. Hence we are happily relieved of the arduous responsibility of punishing people for their maltreatment of us or others. It is God’s prerogative. He will certainly attend to them. So rest in perfect peace, turning over all your enemies eternally to Him who says, “Vengeance is mine, and I will repay.” Lord, save us all from criticism, controversy, fault-finding, calumniation and litigation.

Verses 13-17



13. This verse vividly describes Christians in the old states getting so bewildered and enthused with the love of money, that they sell out, migrate to California and plunge into the gold mines, wild with speculation after riches. They leave their religion in the old country; and forsaking God, they worship gold.

14. This verse vividly describes the evanescence of all things earthly, and the transcendent folly of living for this world. It is said that an inhabitant of one of God’s innumerable, immortal, unfallen worlds came down and became a citizen of the earth. He was utterly unacquainted with all things terrestrial. On arrival, responsive to his inquiry, “What is the chief good?” all answered, “Money making and money getting.” Acquiescing in their response, and falling into line with the people of this world, himself entering upon the pursuit of wealth. One day he happens to see a graveyard. As death was unknown in the country whence he came, he interrogates a passerby, “What is this?” When the man gave him a candid answer, observing that all the people in this world live but a few years and then die, he said “Oh, 1 have been deceived; if what you tell me is true, not money, but a preparation for never-ending eternity, is the chief good in this world.”

15. “On the contrary if the Lord wills and we should live we will do this or that.” In my innumerable responses to evangelistic calls I always append the initials D.V. ( Deo volente God willing). It is very unbecoming in people who profess to believe in God to leave Him out of their daily conversation and transactions.

16. Here James positively condemns all human, boastful arrogance as utterly out of harmony with the meekness and lowliness of true Christian character.

17. “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” This verse teaches that our responsibility to God is commensurate with our knowledge. When the whole world shall stand before the great white throne there will be an infinitesimal diversity of judgments. The people who lived and died under the Mosaic dispensation will be judged by the Old Testament only; those who have lived in the Christian era will be judged by the Old and New Testaments, while the heathen millions will be judged by neither, but only by the laws of nature. Hence myriads who have lived and died in pagan darkness and superstition will be acquitted, because they walked in all the light they had, while multiplied thousands who have lived in Christian lands and shown better moral characters, will go down under condemnation because they did not walk in all the light God gave them. 1 John 1:7, “If we walk in light... the blood... cleanseth us from all sin,” applies to all nations indiscriminately Jews, Mohammedans, pagans, Catholics and Protestants, having an infinite diversity of light, but only responsible for what they have.

1. “Come now, ye rich, weep howling over your calamities coming upon you.” The “rich” here appealed to are those Christians mentioned in the preceding chapter who migrated out of their humble rural homes, providentially so favorable to piety, into the rich mercantile cities, there to trade, speculate and accumulate fortunes. They have succeeded in getting rich, but utterly backsliding, their life worn out in laying up treasures on earth, which they must now leave for others to enjoy, go out into eternity and meet God unprepared, destined to weep and howl in the flames of hell through all eternity, bewailing their blind folly in permitting Mammon to crowd God out of their hearts.

2. In the olden time fine garments were exceeding costly. These people were vain enough to buy them, but too stingy to wear them till the moths devoured them.

3. This verse vividly describes the remorse of conscience superinduced by their ill-gotten gains as a consuming fire devouring their flesh. “Ye laid up treasure in the last day.” Money accumulates money faster than anything else, consequently a life spent in hard toil to accumulate riches is followed by a feeble and afflicted old age, in which the grace of God is so much needed to ripen them for eternity, but the rapid accumulation of riches inundates them with such a multiplicity of cares as to crowd God out, envelop them in an awful spiritual night, and thus precipitate them into eternity.

4. Here we see how the accumulation of riches almost invariably involves a guilty conscience because of ill-gotten gains, fraudulently wrung from the stinted wages of the poor laborers.

5. “You flourished and lived sumptuously on the earth; you nourished your heart in the day of slaughter.” Here we have the striking similitude of a slaughter pen, in which the sheep, hogs and cattle are fattened for food. These animals, intellectually blind to their awful fate, eat voraciously till the fatal blow strikes them dead and their flesh is cruelly cut to pieces and devoured. So these unfortunate people, who embarked upon a great financial speculation, grew rich, backslid and became hopeless reprobates, are now in Satan’s slaughter pen, feeding on the carnal pabulum of this world, by which they are fattened for the barbecues of hell, in which cruel devils will devour them without mercy.

6. “You condemned, you murdered the righteous, he does not resist you.” These people have not only utterly apostatized, in their wild scramble after wealth, but they have actually turned persecutors of the Lord’s true people and imbrued their hands in martyrs’ blood. In this argument against covetousness, illustrated and enforced by the course of these Christians immigrating into a mercantile city to accumulate riches, while they succeed in their mercantile enterprises and riches wonderfully accumulate, they become worldly, apostatize, forget God and actually persecute the righteous, dropping out of life in Satan’s blackest midnight. Thus the argument, winding up in the signal triumph of sin and Satan, is a solemn warning to all Christians to beware of the seductive covetousness. It almost ruined Jacob, and utterly ruined Judas.

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Bibliographical Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on James 4". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament".