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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Writings

James 5

Verses 1-20

5 The Coming of The Lord

( James 5 )

The apostle has presented the beauty of the practical Christian life in the midst of a vast profession ( James 1 ); he has given us the tests that prove the reality of those who profess the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ ( James 2 ); he has warned us against the different evils that are found amongst those who make a profession of being in relationship with the true God ( James 3 and James 4 ). Now, in the closing chapter ( James 5 ), he clearly distinguishes between the two classes, on the one hand the vast mass of mere profession, on the other those in its midst who have personal faith in the Lord Jesus. When James wrote his Epistle, the twelve tribes formed the great profession, and the godly remnant the true believers. Today it is professing Christendom and true believers in its midst to whom these truths apply.

The apostle sets before us the true condition of each class, the one outwardly rich and prosperous, the other poor and suffering. He presents the Lord's coming as ending both conditions. He exhorts the godly to quiet endurance in the midst of suffering, and shows that the sufferings they pass through form part of the Lord's discipline for their blessing.

1. The rich in this world ( Jam_5:1-6 )

(Vv. 1-3). The apostle first appeals to those who, while making a profession of recognising the true God, yet having no personal faith in Christ, make riches and prosperity in this world their great object. Such would do well to look on to the judgment about to overwhelm the religious profession, and to weep and to howl in view of the miseries that are coming on them. Their possessions will not only fail and become corrupted, but they will be the means of their own destruction, even as a fire destroys. How often have riches, with all the opportunities they afford for the gratification of every lust, proved the truth of the apostle's words, by becoming a means to destroy both body and soul. “Your gold and silver ... shall eat your flesh as fire.” Moreover, time will soon be passed, for we are living “in the last days” (N.Tn.). Thus the rich in this world are warned that judgment is coming (verse 1), riches are failing (verse 2), men are being destroyed, body and soul, and time is passing (verse 3).

(Vv. 4, 5). Not only do unsanctified riches destroy their owners, but too often they lead to the poor being defrauded and persecuted, rather than being benefited. Moreover, apart from any persecution of the poor, riches tend to a life of idle luxury in which the poor are ignored and forgotten. Even with Christians, one has truly said, “Riches are a positive danger for us, because they nourish pride, and tend to dispose the heart to keep aloof from the poor with whom the Lord associated Himself in this world” (J.N.D.).

Nevertheless, the poor are the special care of the Lord. He is not indifferent to their needs, nor deaf to their cries. The Lord Himself became poor that we through His poverty might be rich. It is to the poor the gospel is sent; and God hath chosen “the foolish”, “the weak”, the “base”, the “despised” of this world. There may, indeed, be some mighty and some high-born that are called, but, says the Scripture, “not many” ( 1Co_1:26-29 ).

(V. 6). Further, the rich have not only defrauded and neglected the poor, but they have condemned and killed the Just. The One who can say, “I am poor and needy”, is not wanted by an easy-going profession which says, “I am rich, and increased with goods.” The rich in Israel condemned and killed the Just; the rich in Christendom put Him outside their door (Compare Psa_40:17 and Rev_3:17 ).

2. The poor of the flock ( Jam_5:7-11 )

(Vv. 7, 8). God is not indifferent to the wrongs of His poor people, nor to the rejection of Christ by the world. At present God does not generally show by any public intervention His care for His people. When He does intervene, it will be in judgment on the world. At present He is acting in grace, not willing that any should perish. For His public intervention we must await the coming of the Lord. To this time the apostle refers when he says, “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.” In view of all that the Lord's people may have to suffer, these two things are pressed upon them: present patience and the immediate coming of the Lord. When the Lord comes, it will be manifest that God has not been indifferent to the sufferings and wrongs of His people. When He comes, tribulation will overtake those who have troubled them, and those who have been troubled will be brought into “rest” ( 2Th_1:6-10 ). In the meantime, God's people are called to exercise patience, like the husbandman who has to labour with “long patience”, waiting for the precious fruit of the earth. When He comes, His people will reap in heavenly blessings the precious fruit of their long patience. In view of the precious fruits we are going to receive, and the imminent coming of the Lord, the apostle says, “Stablish your hearts.”

True waiting for the Lord - not simply the doctrine of the second advent - will keep the soul in separation from the world with its riches, its pleasures and its wantonness. It will lift the soul above all suffering and slight, come from what quarter they may. It will enable the soul to endure patiently through every conflict; and to walk in calm confidence, not reviling when reviled, nor threatening when made to suffer wrongfully, even as Christ did not resist when condemned by the rulers of this world ( 1Pe_2:21-23 ).

(V. 9). In result we shall “complain not one against another.” Knowing that the Lord at His coming will put everything right, we are exhorted to go on in quietness of spirit, content with such things as we have, not complaining of our own lot, nor condemning others who appear to be in easier circumstances than ourselves, for “the Judge standeth before the door.” It is not for us to judge what is best for ourselves in our present circumstances. To complain is to condemn ourselves by calling in question His ways with us. We must allow that the Lord is the Judge and knows what is best for each one.

Moreover, we are to beware of a complaining spirit that is irritated by those who may be maligning us in secret. It is not for us to seek our revenge, but to endure patiently. The attempt to defend ourselves ends too often in acting in the flesh, thus taking ourselves out of the hands of the Judge and bringing ourselves under condemnation. Well for us to endure silently, knowing that the Judge stands before the door. He is not indifferent to the wrongs of His people. He has perfect knowledge of all that takes place, and He is just and impartial in His judgment. One has truly said, “It is of all importance that we should hold in check the movements of nature. We should do it if we saw God before us; we should certainly do it in the presence of man we wished to please. Now God is always present; therefore to fail in this calmness and moderation is a proof that we have forgotten the presence of God” (J.N.D.). Let us then seek grace to remember that not only “the coming of the Lord draweth nigh”, but also that “the Judge standeth before the door.”

(Vv. 10, 11). The apostle reminds us of two examples of men who, in the past, suffered and endured. In the prophets we see men who suffered unjustly and, instead of reviling their persecutors, took their sufferings patiently, with the result that they were happy in spite of what they wrongfully suffered. They are examples for ourselves when called to suffer unjustly for the Name of Jesus and the confession of the truth. We are to follow in the steps of Him “who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” ( 1Pe_2:22 ; 1Pe_2:23 ). “The Judge standeth before the door”, and we do well to leave the judgment with Him.

Furthermore, we have the outstanding example of Job. In his case, we see not only the patience of a sufferer, but also the end of the Lord. If, in the presence of suffering and wrongs, we patiently endure, we shall find that in the end, “The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” Job's case is specially instructive, as in his troubles we learn that, whatever trials we are permitted to pass through, God uses them for our discipline. In all that Job passed through, we see the discipline and chastening of God for the blessing of His servant. Job had begun to take pleasure in his own goodness and trust in his own righteousness. To destroy Job's confidence in himself and his own goodness, the malice of Satan is allowed, to a limited point, to sift him with terrible trials. The result of all the trials that Job passed through from Satan the accuser, from his wife and from his friends, was that he not only triumphed over all the power of the enemy, but through the trials he learned and judged the secret and unsuspected evil of his own heart. Taking pleasure in his own goodness, which indeed was real and owned of God, he had said, “When the eye saw me, it gave witness to me”; but when at last he gets into the presence of God, he says, “Mine eye seeth Thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” ( Job_39:11 ; Job_42:5 ; Job_42:6 ).

By the grace of God, Job is triumphantly patient in the presence of trials, and by this same grace he is brought to know himself in the presence of the Lord. Then, having learnt his own heart, he ends by learning the heart of the Lord, for he found “that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” God, having searched Job's heart and rebuked his enemies, abundantly blessed him, for we read that “the Lord turned the captivity of Job ... also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before ... so the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning” ( Job_42:10 ; Job_42:12 ).

(V. 12). The apostle has warned us against impatience in the presence of wrongs that would seek to revenge the wrongs in forgetfulness that “the Judge standeth before the door.” By thus taking our case into our own hands we may fall into condemnation (verse 9). Now he warns us that there is another way in which we may forget God and come under condemnation. In complaining against men, we may forget the presence of God; but also in defending ourselves we may so forget what is due to God that we seek to confirm our statements by irreverently invoking the Name of God, or heaven, or earth. It is the utmost irreverence, in the heat of passion, to use divine Names to seek to gain credit before men. The apostle therefore says, “Above all things, my brethren, ... let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay.”

(V. 13). The apostle passes on to speak of our great resource in the presence of wrongs. He presumes that we are in the presence of a great profession and that the true people of God will suffer evil. He has warned us that, from whatever source the wrongs may come, whether from the world or our brethren, we are to beware of complaining and seeking to avenge ourselves against the wrongdoer (verse 9); and we are not to defend ourselves with oaths (verse 12). What then are we to do? His answer is simple: “Does any one among you suffer evil? let him pray” (N.Tn.). Our natural tendency is to revile when reviled, to meet charges with counter charges, and malice with malice. This is simply to meet flesh with flesh. God's way for us is very different and very simple. In the presence of every wrong we have a God-given resource. Instead of taking things into our own hands we are to take them to God in prayer. We need not underestimate the wrong; we may face it in all its malice and evil; but having done so, we are to draw near to God and spread it out before Him in prayer. Thus the natural fleshly feeling of revenge will be subdued, the heart will be consoled and the spirit calmed. One has said, “In every case of affliction, prayer is our resource; we own our dependence and we confide in His goodness. The heart draws near to Him, it tells out to Him its need and its sorrow, laying it down on the throne and the heart of God.”

Moreover, it is not only our sorrows that may come in between our souls and God, but also our joys. So the apostle tells us, “Is any happy? let him sing psalms.” Our joys as our sorrows are to be the occasion of turning to God. There is an outlet for our sorrows in prayer, and an outlet for our joy in psalms.

(Vv. 14, 15). The apostle has spoken of the wrongs we may suffer at the hands of others. He now speaks of another form of affliction - the dealings of the Lord. Apart from what others may do in malice to wrong us, the Lord may deal with us in love for our blessing. Thus sickness may come upon us. This sickness may be from ills common to these mortal bodies, or it may be the direct chastisement of the Lord; but in either case our resource is prayer. We are not to view the sickness as a matter of accident, but to see the Lord's hand in it; and turning to the Lord in faith, we shall find that He is ready to listen to and answer the prayer of faith. If sins have been committed, they shall be forgiven. Here, the fact of prayer and seeking the prayers of others expresses the submission of the soul to that which God has allowed, instead of giving way to complaints and murmurings that would be the expression of a heart in rebellion.

(Vv. 16-18). The prayer to God may be accompanied by confession to one another. There is no thought of confession to a priest or to an elder, but from “one to another”. One has truly said, “Whatever may be the state of ruin in which the assembly of God is found, we can always confess our faults one to another, and pray for one another, that we may be healed. This does not require the existence of official order, but it supposes humility, brotherly confidence and love. We cannot indeed confess our faults without confidence in a brother's love. We may choose a wise and discreet brother (instead of opening our hearts to indiscreet persons), but this choice alters nothing as to the guilty person's state of soul. Not hiding the evil, but opening his heart, he frees his humbled conscience: perhaps also his body” (J.N.D.).

To encourage us in prayer, the apostle turns our thoughts to Elias to show that the “fervent supplication of the righteous man has much power” (N.Tn.). Elias was a man of like passions as ourselves. Like us he had his seasons of failure and despondency, and yet, in answer to his prayer, the rain was withheld for three years and six months. In his history we see the display of outward power under the authority of God, for Elijah said, “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” ( 1Ki_17:1 ). Here we are permitted to see the secret source of this public display of power. He prayed and God heard and answered his prayer.

Thus in all this portion of the Epistle we learn that, whether it be in the presence of wrongs from others, whether in sickness, or in wrongs that we ourselves may have done, prayer is our resource, and the prayer of faith - the fervent supplication of a righteous man - availeth much.

(Vv. 19, 20). The apostle closes the Epistle by leading away our thoughts from our wrongs and our sicknesses to think of the need and blessing of others. If any err from the truth, love will not be indifferent to the erring one, but will seek to bring him back, knowing that, if he is recovered, he is saved from the way of death and his sins are covered. Alas! offended vanity and malice that flow from jealousy will, to serve their own ends, uncover the sins of an erring one, even if long since confessed and the erring one restored. Love ever covers that which has been judged and put away.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on James 5". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/james-5.html. 1832.