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Bible Commentaries

Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

James 5

Unfortunately, this chapter division comes right in the middle of the apostolic argument against covetousness, interrupting the sense and breaking it in two. You never will make much proficiency in Biblical study, till you learn to utterly ignore all chapters and verses, as the divisions were not made by the inspired writers, but by people in the dark ages who knew very little about the Scriptures. So this argument against avarice continues right on to James 5:6.

Verses 1-6



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.

Verses 7-11



7. The people in the Apostolic age were on the constant outlook for the Lord to return to the earth. If the Apostolic Church had been true to the Pentecostal experience our Lord would have returned in the glory of His kingdom before the expiration of that generation. Matthew 16:28. It is certain that the true attitude of saintship is that of constant expectancy of our Lord’s return to this world. It is the normal inspiration of all saints to be robed and ready every moment to salute our glorious King. Inspired truth is very simple and unique, consisting of the isolated dogma of sin and its remedy. However, the Holy Ghost utilizes infinitesimal imagery, deduced from every ramification of the material world, to elucidate and enforce this grand primary truth. The autumnal rains are indispensable to soften the earth preparatory for the farmer’s plow and the reception of the seed wheat. Then he is dependent on the spring rains to produce the crop. Here the Holy Spirit uses this familiar agricultural illustration to enforce the great truth in the gracious economy, involving the absolute necessity of the two experiences. Regeneration sows the seed and sanctification produces the crop of holiness for the heavenly garner.

8. “The coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” The Greek parousia, “coming,” literally means presence, setting forth the fact that our Lord will come to stay and reign upon the earth. Oh, what an inspiration to a soul!

9. The momentary anticipation of our Lord’s return to the earth should silence all cavil, vilification, strife, controversy and unkind criticism forever.

10. We derive infinite value from the patience and heroism of our noble predecessors in the Lord’s kingdom, whose testimonies light up all by- gone ages. The mob having assaulted John Wesley’s meeting, extinguished the lights, and stampeded the audience in the darkness; seizing the preacher, they dragged him away and beat him till they thought he was dead, then skulked away. While the man of God lays suffering in his blood till day dawned, he composed that beautiful hymn,

“Shall Simon bear the cross alone, And all the world go free? No; there is a cross for every one, And there’s a cross for me,”

thus manifesting the most angelic spirit of the man amid the bloody persecutions.

11. Here James makes pertinent and beautiful allusion to the patient suffering of Job and the end which the Lord brought to the memorable tragedy when those three great anti-holiness preachers, i. e.; Eliphas, Bildad and Zophar, united in a debate with Job against his testimony of Christian perfection. Upon his final appeal from their verdict to God, behold, Jehovah descends in a whirlwind and accepts the situation, turns the debate into a holiness meeting, says to Eliphas, Bildad and Zophar, “You have not spoken that which is right concerning me as my servant Job hath; therefore offer a sacrifice of some rams and some bullocks and my servant Job shall pray for you.” Four represents humanity, i. e., the world North, East, South and West. Three represents God. Therefore seven throughout the Bible represents our Savior the incarnation of all perfection. Hence we see that God required them to make a perfect consecration. Behold the beautiful scene Eliphas, Bildad and Zophar, all on their knees, seeking sanctification, Job praying for them, God Almighty conducting the service, and Elihu, that young holiness evangelist who had been scared out of his testimony by these big preachers till God came, when he said he would burst if he did not testify, shouting aloud. Job was not a Jew, but an Arab, belonging not to the Mosaic but to the Patriarchal dispensation. History says he was one hundred and forty years old at the time of his afflictions. After his wonderful restoration he lived one hundred and forty years more. Meanwhile his estates were all given back double and the same number of children given back, which added to his former family, who were not destroyed but in heaven, made them also double.

Verse 12



12. Leviticus 24:16; Leviticus 24:16 corroborates James, giving the death penalty as the punishment due in every case of profanity. James 5:17 specifies the death penalty for murder. Hence you see profanity is as wicked in the sight of God as murder. We can only measure crimes by their penalties. Here James 5:16 gives death as the penalty for profanity and James 5:17 gives death as the penalty for murder. Therefore profanity is equally criminal with murder, both punished with death under the law of God, given by Moses. Profanity is certainly one of the crying iniquities of the present age, with other dark crimes provoking the indignation of God and expediting that swift destruction coming upon the wicked. As the foundation of profanity is laid in by-words, parents and teachers can not be too careful in the prohibition of idle words and phrases, which tend to profanity. It is also our imperative duty to prohibit profanity in our employees. The name of God should be called only in reverence and solemnity.

Verses 13-15



13-15. We see clearly from these and other corroborative Scriptures that the Lord is the Healer of our bodies as well as of our souls. It is certainly appropriate when we get sick to obey this Scripture. The anointing with oil symbolizes our full consecration to God and the enduement of the Holy Ghost. In the Gospel dispensation, the Levitical priesthood is transferred to the membership, justification making you a priest and sanctification a high priest. 1 Peter 2:5-9. I would not anoint an impenitent person nor pray for his healing, but for his conviction, as salvation is infinitely better than health, and God may use his sickness to bring him to repentance.

“The prayer of faith will save the sick.” “As your faith is, so be it unto you,” is as true of the body as the soul. Whereas you are saved and sanctified by the grace of faith, you are healed by the gift of faith. 1 Corinthians 1:9. Hence the healing of your body has nothing to do with the salvation of your soul. It is simply to be understood in the light of a very precious privilege and always to be subordinated to salvation, all petitions being crowned, “Thy will be done.” The gift of divine healing is bestowed by the sovereign discriminating mercy of God. It is certainly our glorious privilege to have it. Healing always comes pursuant to the “gift of faith.” Though I have been distinctly and repeatedly healed, if the Lord does not translate me, the time is at hand when I will have no faith to be healed, and then I will get to go to heaven. If you are truly and fully consecrated to God, as indicated by the anointing with oil, you may rest assured that God will either give you health or heaven which is infinitely better. As the light of the glorious gospel broadens out over the world and the people learn about Jesus as the Healer of the body, divine healing is becoming common, which is not only a glorious blessing to the body, but a grand conservator of true spirituality.

Verses 16-17



16. “The inwrought prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” The Greek for inwrought is energeumenee. It means the prayer wrought in the heart by the Holy Ghost. It is from ergon, work, and en, in. When the Holy Ghost works a prayer in your heart He is sure to answer it. This wonderful truth is corroborated by the case of Elijah, when he prayed three years in the cave by the Brook Cherith I visited this cave in 1895. I do not wonder that they did not find him, as it is profound and dark, while the craggy mountains jut over from either side. It is now occupied by a nice, strong superstructure, inhabited by Greek monks.

17. “Elijah prayed with prayer” (not “earnestly,” as your English reads). “With prayer,” as the Greek has it, is very significant. It means that Elijah prayed with the prayer which God gave him. That is the reason why he could lock the heavens three years and six months and withhold the rains. If God were to give you the prayer you could do the same, because God always answers the prayers which He gives. Learn the secret of prevailing prayer. Get in touch with the Almighty so He will give you your prayers, then He is sure to answer them. It makes no difference how low down your son or husband has sunk in sin, if you get in touch with God, so He will give you your petitions. You have but to take hold of Him in prayer and He will raise them up. “Elijah was a man of like suffering,” i. e., he suffered hunger, thirst and pain as we do. “Passion” is the wrong word, as Elijah was surely saved from all carnal passions, as we ought to be.

Verses 19-20



19, 20. Here James warns his sainted brethren against apostasy, exhorting them to convert the apostate, and assuring them of rich reward. He is surely of the Apostolic brethren before he “errs from the truth.” Afterward James calls him a ‘“sinner” and earnestly pleads for his “conversion,” assuring the benefactor that he will “save a soul from death.” In this plain statement you see clearly the possibility of a real Christian “erring from the truth” and becoming a “sinner.” At the same time we are assured that he may be converted again and eternally saved. This epistle is infinitely valuable in the elucidation of practical Christianity in its sundry phases.

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Bibliographical Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on James 5". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament".